Goodbye, June. Hello, Barry. The idea (blush) the Giants, figuratively had gone south when in actuality they went east across the Bay Bridge? Sorry.
Journalists, like infielders, botch easy ones. Make that E-C, as in error, columnist.
Oh ye of little faith. Oh me of little faith.
“It’s going to have to pick up,” was the concession from Giants manager Bruce Bochy after they lost three in row to the A’s in Oakland. “We know it.”
Knowing and doing can be entirely different, but not in this case. The sweepees (Giants, five in a row) became the sweepers (through Tuesday at Chicago, seven in a row).
Momentum in baseball, the adage decrees, is only as good as the next day’s pitcher. But when the next day’s pitcher is Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Jonathan Sanchez or — and was there ever a doubt? — Barry Zito, there’s probability of keeping ol’ Mo in your dugout.
There was worry maybe Zito — who has gone through so much and handled it well, even at the times when he wasn’t handling his pitches — might return with a thud.
That the people who blamed him for everything from global warming to curveballs that missed wide would remain forever unforgiving and forever booing. Somebody had to be at fault, and because of that contract, he was the chosen.
Buster Posey’s broken ankle? Freddy Sanchez’s dislocated shoulder? Blame Zito. Barry Zito’s sprained foot? Can we blame Barry Bonds?
But Zito came back beautifully Tuesday evening. His first major league game in more than two months was a measure of both success and reassurance.
Barry played it properly cool — “A lot of things I could be better at,” he said — but deep down there had to be satisfaction. You sit out because of rehabilitation, then pitch in Class-A and Triple-A, questions arise. Seven innings of four-hit, two-walk ball, even against the Chicago Cubs, provides solid answers.
“He just looked confident throwing strikes,” was Bochy’s observation after the game, the second of a doubleheader at Wrigley. “He had a different way about him when he came back from rehab. He looked like the pressure was lifted off him and he was having fun.”
Since Zito signed that $126 million contract with the Giants before the 2007 season, fun has been infrequent, pressure constant. Barry conceded he tried to prove his value, even though in sports, value is arbitrary. He attempted to throw every ball perfectly, which of course resulted in a high degree of imperfection.
“You do it for so many years and you don’t miss a turn,” Zito said a few days ago about the game which is his job, “and you kind of forget all the joy that comes with being out there.”
As the late Willie Stargell, the All-Star from Alameda, reminded us, “At the start the umpire doesn’t say, ‘Work ball.’”
When, this past season, the Giants won their first World Series in San Francisco, they went about their task as lightheartedly and effectively as possible. The only thing difficult was trying to determine whether the players were having a better time than the fans or vice versa.
After a June when winning and Barry Zito both made a comeback, that issue still very much is in doubt.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.