Zito stays focused amidst personal tragedy

zito-barry-intense-eyes-delivery.jpg

Zito stays focused amidst personal tragedy

Rael Enteen
CSNBayArea.com staff writer 

SAN FRANCISCO – Major League Baseball has a bereavement list for players dealing with a death in the family. Barry Zito wanted no part of it.

Three days after the death of his father Joseph, Zito took the mound at AT&T Park. He settled in after a shaky start to the outing to give the Giants seven strong innings in a game they would go on to win 2-1 in walk-off fashion.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants break through against Marlins in 11th] 

“I just try to minimize distractions when I take the mound, regardless of what it is,” Zito said. “Some things are a little heavier than others, but today I was able to go out there and stay focused and give the team a chance to win.”

The third of four games between the Giants and Miami Marlins didn’t end until Hector Sanchez’s shallow fly ball fell in front of Justin Ruggiano with the bases loaded in the 11th inning, long after Zito had departed. But Bruce Bochy knew to give credit where credit was due.

“It started with Zito,” Bochy said. “Considering what he’s had to go through, he had great focus out there. There’s nothing tougher than what he had to go through. To go out there with that focus, that’s impressive.”

While Zito was understandably hesitant to talk about the death of his father, his teammates picked him up.

Your browser does not support iframes.

“I think we were all impressed,” said Hunter Pence, who prevented the go-ahead run from scoring in the top of the 11th with a shoestring catch. “Obviously baseball is extremely important, but there’s perspective. For him to come out and pitch the way he did and be there for us…we’re a family too playing as a team, and we’re all here for him. He went out and pitched outstanding.”

Buster Posey said that Zito, despite the personal tragedy, was his usual self heading into Saturday’s start.

“Barry is the ultimate professional, but obviously when you lose a family member, especially a parent, I can’t image what he was going through,” Posey said. “He had his routine and he stuck to it and he gave us a great performance.”

Your browser does not support iframes.

It looked like Zito was headed for an early shower, not a great performance, after throwing 48 pitches to get through two innings. The Marlins only got to him for one run over that span, so Zito did his best to limit the damage, but a quality start did not appear likely early on.

Bochy said that Zito has proven over the course of his tenure with the Giants that he’s capable of bouncing back from early struggles, which has led to a longer leash.

“He’s probably got somewhat of a high pitch count because he’s using all his pitches and he doesn’t give in, which is a great quality,” Bochy said. “He’s also a guy that can handle it and he has shown that.”

The sentimental aspect of Zito’s outing overshadows the fact that the Giants were on the verge of losing three straight to baseball’s worst team. A loss would’ve put the Giants at .500 for the first time since April 2, the second day of the season, and on the verge of a sweep at home. Instead, the Giants improved to 24-14 at AT&T Park with their eighth walk-off win.

Gregor Blanco, leading off in Angel Pagan’s absence, reached base four times. His double to Triple’s Alley in the fifth inning bizarrely bounced high enough for a fan in the arcade seats to interfere. Zito, on first after a failed safety squeeze, was running on contact and umpires determined he would’ve scored from first had the ball stayed in play, knotting the game at a run apiece.

Zito left with the 1-1 tie in tact and turned it over to an overworked bullpen. But Bochy’s relievers combined for four scoreless innings, including 1.2 each from Sergio Romo and Sandy Rosario.

Rosario would’ve been in line for the loss if not for Pence’s gem in right. With two on and two out, Pence’s former teammate in Philadelphia Placido Polanco sent a slicing line drive the other way that found leather just before it would’ve hit grass.

“You know what’s on the line there,” Pence said. “I’m playing Polanco a little shallow, a little over. He’s really good at hitting those soft liners that way; he’s made a living off of it for a long, long time. Fortunately I was able to get there.”

Pence’s catch set the stage for a dramatic bottom half of the 11th that started when Blanco reached on an infield single.

“[Blanco] brings so much energy to the club,” Bochy said. “That’s what you love about him. He goes all out every play.”

After Marco Scutaro sacrificed Blanco to second, Posey followed with his own infield single on a close play, waving his arms wildly to beat first base umpire Mark Wegner to the call.

“They wanted it bad,” Bochy said. “You saw them going down the line in the last inning. They were doing all they can to beat those balls out. It’s good for these guys because they’re fighting.”

The hustle was rewarded after the Marlins intentionally walked Pence to load the bases for Sanchez, who sent the second pitch he saw from reliever Ryan Webb to shallow left. Unlike Pence, who appeared to put his legs into high gear on his game-saving catch, Ruggiano hesitated and didn’t even attempt a dive, allowing Blanco to trot home from third for the win.

The Giants have now gone 84 innings since their last home run, a leadoff shot by Blanco in Atlanta on June 14, but Bochy isn’t concerned.

“We’re a team that tries to keep the line moving and execute like we did the last inning,” Bochy said. “Home runs are nice, but we know it’s not our strength. They’ll come. We’re in a little rut right now, but these things seem to be streaky. Right now we’re just not hitting home runs, but you’ll see them come.”

Dusty chooses son's graduation over Nationals game against Padres

dusty-darren-us.jpg
USATSI

Dusty chooses son's graduation over Nationals game against Padres

WASHINGTON — Dusty Baker will miss the Washington Nationals weekend series against the San Diego Padres to attend his son Darren’s graduation.

Baker said he will rejoin Washington when it begins a three-game series in San Francisco on Monday, near Baker’s offseason home. Bench coach Chris Speier will assume managerial duties against the Padres.

Baker’s son Darren is graduating from Jesuit High School in Carmichael, California. He’s committed to play college baseball at Cal.

As a 3-year-old bat boy, Darren was rescued from a potential home plate collision by J.T. Snow in Game 5 of the 2002 World Series between Baker’s Giants and the Angels.

Giants notes: 'Disappointing' road trip; Nuñez hopes to return Friday

Giants notes: 'Disappointing' road trip; Nuñez hopes to return Friday

CHICAGO — As they packed up at AT&T Park eight days ago, the Giants talked of taking their momentum on the road. It sounded pie-in-the-sky given the way they had played in April and on the previous trip, but when they took the first two in St. Louis, players started to believe they had finally turned the corner. 

And then came a Sunday loss, and three of four at Wrigley Field. There was no happy flight Thursday. The Giants lost 5-1, again looking flat against a less-than-elite pitcher, and ended up with a 3-4 trip. They’ll finish the first two months of the season without a winning road trip. They're 9-19 away from AT&T Park. 

“It’s disappointing,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Once you win the first one here, you’re hoping you get greedy and take the series, but we didn’t. That’s disappointing.”

The Giants entered the road trip with a 6.62 starters’ ERA on the road, but pitching wasn’t the issue. Sure there were too many meatballs — most of the 10 Cubs homers in this series came on pitches left right over the fat part of the plate — but the starters did their job. The lineup couldn’t keep up. The Giants had just five hits Thursday and finished the trip with 24 runs in seven games. They started the trip nine games out in the West and finished 11 back of the Rockies, their largest deficit since 2013. 

“You come here and take the first game with our (top) guys throwing after that and you’re hoping for a better result,” Jeff Samardzija said. “We started out good and that St. Louis series puts you in a good spot to salvage the trip. We’ll go home now with six solid games on our home turf and they’re six big games for us.”

The Braves and Nationals come to town. The Giants will see Jaime Garcia on Friday, followed by Mike Foltynewicz and R.A. Dickey. 

--- Samardzija’s run without a walk ended at 154 batters when Ian Happ drew a free pass in the seventh. The streak was the best of Samardzija’s career. 

--- Eduardo Nuñez said he got treatment on a tight hamstring throughout the game and he’ll go in early Friday to continue treatment. He hopes to start Friday. 

--- Christian Arroyo was hitless in three at-bats, dropping his average to .191. Before the game, Bochy talked at length about Arroyo’s recent struggles and the plan with him going forward. 

--- If you missed it earlier, I took a tour of the visiting bullpen here. After going in there, I talked to some more pitchers about what they don’t like. It seems to mostly be the fact that you’re separated from the game. One said some of the relievers who pitched Monday had no idea it was raining because they had been getting loose inside for several innings. Seems like there’s a pretty easy fix here: The Cubs can just turn part of that Under Armour wall into a chain-link fence, or have some sort of window that opens up to the outside but doesn’t interfere with outfielders. Maybe next year …