Urban: Zito shows Giants his hammer is strong


Urban: Zito shows Giants his hammer is strong

June 28, 2011


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Mychael Urban

All the talk about reconnecting with the game as it used to be, of re-learning to love it, of absorbing a familiar sense of kinship with the hard-working kids in the minors leagues, of focusing on the process and not results?Meaningless. Empty talk -- especially to fans who are very much into those pesky results. It's pretty simple: Throw a hammer like Thor and you're good.That's what Barry Zito did Tuesday at Wrigley Field, and that's why he looked like the Zito that the Giants were hoping they'd get when they paid him more money than mighty Thor himself made even in his best seasons with the Thunder.
RECAP: Zito returns triumphant; Giants extend win streak
Prior to that, of course, Zito did what Zito often does. Depending on how you feel about the man in general, you can characterize what he did as philosophizing, rhapsodizing, rationalizing or, let's face it, eulogizing.
In short, lots of talk about baseball being fun again, only in deeper-sounding sentences.But you know what's really fun? Locking up a big-league hitter with a curveball that starts somewhere in the upper deck and ends up nestled softly in the catcher's glove, then watching the guy's face contort in a non-verbal expression of "What in the name of all things flecked with gold and accompanied by a smoking-hot harp soloist was that?"Zito did plenty of that Tuesday, and when he's doing that, he's making his 85- to 88-mph fastball look, as Jason Giambi once said, "more like 99 or 100."The bender Zito was featuring while holding the Cubs to four hits and two walks over seven innings was the best he's thrown in the bigs in years.GIANTS INSIDER GALLERY: Zito helps Giants sweep DH
So what happened? What brought back Zito's curveball from the land in which hitters spit on it to the land in which they respect, fear and flail at it?Well, improved fastball command helps prevent the former. Pop a heater into the strike zone early, at any speed, and you're in control of the at-bat; the secondary pitches become a factor. Fall behind with the fastball, especially if it's not above-average, and the hitter can wait out those secondary pitches in search of something straight and somewhat slow. That's a recipe for disaster, and Zito has cooked up plenty of those as a Giant. But thanks to some minor mechanical tweaks, his fastball command improved considerably during his time in the minors. The major change in Zito, however, has been the ditching of his slider. He added the pitch after he won the American League Cy Young in 2002, and that speaks to his personality. He's of the mind that if you aren't trying to get better -- and that's what adding the slider was to him -- you're getting worse.An argument could be made that there isn't much to improve after going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA, but hey, that's how the guy thinks. Can't fault a guy's brain for working a certain way.He's no dummy, though, and he's never duplicated the Cy Young success since adding the slider. It's nearly impossible to throw a slider from a tradition over-the-top arm slot; by nature the pitch has to be released from something of an angle to, well, slide.Yet Zito's curveball, to achieve maximum effectiveness, has to be delivered from a traditional over-the-top arm slot. At it's best, it's a classic noon-to-six bender, and he spent his life perfecting it -- while throwing the other two pitches that helped him win the Cy, a fastball and changeup, from the exact same arm slot.So he canned the slider. Arm slot locked. And though it's taken a while to get the feel for that hammer of Thor, it's there now -- and you saw it Tuesday.

REPORT: Kings trade Cousins to New Orleans Pelicans

REPORT: Kings trade Cousins to New Orleans Pelicans

In a shocking move, the Kings have traded three-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, according to multiple reports.

Cousins is having his best season in Sacramento, averaging 27.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists under Dave Joerger.

The Kings went to great lengths a few weeks back to insure Cousins that rumors of a potential trade were false, even meeting with the 26-year-old big and his agents in Sacramento to crush published reports.

Vlade Divac even went as far as to tell ESPN’s Marc Stein, “We’re not trading DeMarcus.”

Cousins spoke glowingly of Sacramento in his media sessions at All-Star weekend in New Orleans, reiterating to reporters that he would love to finish his career in a Kings uniform.

More to come...

James Ham contributed to this report. 

Instant Replay: Bruins score in overtime, send Sharks to the break with a loss


Instant Replay: Bruins score in overtime, send Sharks to the break with a loss


SAN JOSE – The Boston Bruins skated past the San Jose Sharks on Sunday at SAP Center, 2-1 in overtime.

Brad Marchand’s breakaway goal after the Bruins won a defensive zone faceoff gave Boston the win, as Torey Krug found the forward charging towards the San Jose net. Marchand slipped the puck through Martin Jones’ five hole at 2:36.

San Jose has dropped its last four games decided in the three-on-three.

The Sharks lost for the sixth time in their last eight games (2-1-5), headed into the bye week. They will not play or practice from Monday through Friday, and resume their season on Saturday in Vancouver.

Boston extended its winning streak to four games since firing Claude Julien and naming Bruce Cassidy the interim head coach. The streak began with a 6-3 win over the Sharks at TD Garden on Feb. 9.

The Bruins were just the fourth team of 20 to win the first game after their bye week (4-12-4).

Boston scored the only goal in the first period, while the Sharks answered with a second period tally.

Ryan Spooner’s marker at 11:05 of the opening frame put Boston ahead. An Adam McQuaid point shot found Jimmy Hayes in the slot, and after Hayes fired wide of the net, Spooner tucked in the loose puck.

San Jose turned up the pressure late in the second, finally resulting in a goal by Patrick Marleau. During a four-on-four situation, Brent Burns’ wrist shot deflected right to Marleau’s tape, and he easily flipped in his 502nd career goal at 17:37.

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer shortened his bench for the third period, leaving Mikkel Boedker and Nikolay Goldobin planted on the pine. Melker Karlsson took Boedker’s place on the second line, while Chris Tierney skated on the third line with Tomas Hertl and Joel Ward.

The Sharks are 6-3-1 in the second half of back-to-backs.

Special teams

Each team had just one power play in the game, failing to convert.

The Sharks are 3-for-24 on the power play over their last eight games (12.5 percent), but a perfect 8-for-8 on the PK in their last five.

In goal

Jones was facing the Bruins just 10 days after he was pulled to start the second period in Boston when he allowed three goals on 12 shots. He allowed two goals on 27 shots.

Tuukka Rask made 29 saves for the win.


The Sharks’ lineup was unchanged from Saturday’s win in Arizona, other than the goaltender. Goldobin played in his second game of the season.

Joe Thornton remains two assists away from 1000 in his career. His five-game point streak came to an end.

Burns had 20 shot attempts, including seven on net.

Up next

Saturday’s game in Vancouver begins a stretch where the Sharks will play their final 22 games over a 43-day span. On Feb. 2, they won the first of five meetings with the Canucks, 4-1 at Rogers Arena.

Vancouver, which hosted Philadelphia on Sunday, also has its bye week from Feb. 20-24.