When you’re a fallen, award-winning pitcher, a tad off from greatness, it’s not like you can work things out by going to a Cy Young Anonymous.
So it’s a good thing Tim Lincecum can savor teammate Barry Zito’s miraculous comeback from the massive albatross known as the $126 million contract.
Zito was a master of craft and timing in leading the Giants to a 1-0 victory in the AT&T 2013 home opener.
He kept the Cardinal hitters off-balance in such a way that just when you thought the Cardinals were getting to him, they weren’t — as in Yadier Molina’s towering drive to left that was just west of the foul pole in the fourth inning. Zito would simply make Molina put the ball in play, and then timely defense saved the day, in this case, an inning ending 5-4-3 double play courtesy of the reigning heavyweight third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Once again, it’s the way modern Giants victories are made.
Good pitching, with timely good defense, and timely good bases-on-balls.
That was the Giants’ offense. The team walked all over the Cardinals.
The Giants’ fourth inning was like a Little League special. A Blanco walk, a single from Crawford, a bunt by Zito to load the bases, and then an RBI walk from Pagan.
But Zito, with bullpen help from Affeldt and Romo made it stand.
When it was over, I realized Giants fans have seen Zito do this time and again over the last year, and not just in the post-season when he faced the Cards and shut them down.
Perhaps it was the perception after the big contract, but Zito was considered a pariah for the longest time as he searched for a way to be great again.
But then, in a slow, almost uneventful way, he has built a new resume that is more spectacular than it may have appeared.
Going into the home opener, the Giants have won all of Zito’s last 14 starts, where the lefty went 9-0 with a 3.46 ERA. Make that 15 starts, 10-0. Who knew? And it all adds up.
It may not have looked like much while it was all happening. But the Cardinals know.
They were Zitoed. Again.
Soon to be 35, Zito is still a young guy compared to Jamie Moyer, who in 2012 was the oldest at age 50 to win an MLB game. Zito has said he’s modeled himself after Moyer, and so maybe Zito is just coming into his real prime.
With baseball, it’s always helpful to go back to kid terms, when the game was really fun. Zito is six years older than Lincecum. That’s like a junior high kid watching the high-school varsity senior. It’s hard not to imagine Lincecum taking notes as he watches the evolution of Zito.
Like I said, it’s not like you can get support from a Cy Young Anonymous.
That was the home opener, but the circumstances of the game were preceded by massive pomp, too.
In this case, the Giants were bringing home the World Series trophy, and raising a championship flag again.
Sabre me with all the stats and numbers and make it a science all you want, but the game is really about heart and corn.
So while it’s become somewhat fashionable to pooh-pooh a game day celebration (they can’t all have the drama of a Lou Gehrig farewell), I say the Giants do corn as well as anyone.
With the stadium filled with the kind of orchestral music used to spur emotion in bad films, the ceremony began. (Later, Bochy would say the pre-game indeed elicited a few “tears” among some players).
When the flag came into McCovey Cove on fire boat, I wondered who would raise the flag? Captain Hook? (Or Captain Morgan? Thankfully, no one thought of product placement).
Some pre-game rumor had it that maybe the flag raiser would be a past player, perhaps a Bonds return?
But the flag raiser(s) would be six veteran members of the team, Lincecum among them.
Lincecum seemed to beam with genuine pride as he jogged to and from centerfield to raise the flag.
That’s why it’s hard to imagine him not being a Giant forever.
Oddly, two players who were not in the group of flag-raisers were the battery of the day. Zito looked like he was meditating or something on the bull-pen mound as coach Dave Righetti stood by.
And there was the new face of the team, Buster Posey, putting on the so-called “tools of ignorance” watching but focused on the opener.
Posey gets his due with the MVP ceremony in game two of the series.
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