Barry Zito’s performance in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series was a good reminder of how inspiring baseball can be.
In a few short weeks, Zito has gone from being The City’s biggest sports goat to an Orange October hero who outdueled baseball’s best pitcher in the first game of the Fall Classic.
Zito followed up last week’s masterpiece in St. Louis with ?5²?³ innings of one-run baseball in an 8-3 win over the Detroit Tigers at AT&T Park on Wednesday in Game 1 of the World Series.
As Zito walked off the mound with two outs in the top of the sixth, he tipped his cap to the fans who filled the chilly-autumn air with chants of “Bar-ry! Bar-ry! Bar-ry!”
No one could have imagined this moment two years ago, let alone two weeks ago. After becoming in December 2006 the first pitcher to ink a $126 million contract, Zito lost the mojo that defined him in Oakland. His regular-season record in a Giants uniform is 58-69, and he’s never finished a season in The City with an ERA below 4.00. In 2010, he was left off of the postseason roster completely.
But he didn’t give up or wither into self-pity. He accepted Bruce Bochy’s decision with dignity and kept at it because in baseball (and life), redemption is always right around the corner.
The opportunity presented itself last week and Zito took full advantage. But no one expected him to outshine Justin Verlander in Game 1.
Verlander, the AL’s reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner, was 3-0 with a miniscule 0.74 ERA in the 2012 postseason entering Wednesday’s contest. His playoff performance had called to mind the likes of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Jack Morris. But when the sun sets on this postseason, it might be the image of Zito on the mound that history remembers.
Zito subjected the faithful to some anxiety in the first inning, though. After Austin Jackson flew out to right field to lead off the game, Omar Infante singled and then Zito walked Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. Suddenly, Prince Fielder was at the plate with two on and one out.
Zito often struggled in first innings this year. He allowed 20 first-inning runs (18 earned) in his first 21 starts. But his record was 14-3 when he put a zero on the board.
He escaped trouble by inducing a pop up to short from Fielder and a groundball to third from Delmon Young.
The Giants didn’t hesitate to provide support in the bottom half of the inning. Pablo Sandoval smacked the first of his three home runs and his two-run shot in the third gave Zito a nice cushion to work with.
In his career, Zito is now 126-7 (41-3 as a Giant) when he receives four or more runs of support.
Zito’s scoreless-innings streak (13) was snapped in the sixth when Cabrera drove in Jackson. But the Giants scored more than enough runs to win Zito’s 14th straight start, making him the toast of the town for at least one more October night.
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PGackle.