Before Tim Lincecum became Barry Zito, Barry Zito was Tim Lincecum.
Given Barry Zito’s horrid career on the Giants, it’s easy to forget that he used to be really quite good. Vintage Zito wasn’t quite as dominant as vintage Lincecum, but he was the model of reliability, posting 3-something ERAs almost every year, while never missing a start. The contract that he signed was absolutely ridiculous, but when he became a free agent he was definitely a valuable commodity, and nothing obvious pointed to a massive collapse on the horizon.
But there the collapse was, waiting there on the horizon like a big ol’ boat full of suck. You know how frustrating this season has been for Lincecum, over the last 15 starts? Yeah, that’s what Zito’s last five and a half years have been like. Zito’s issues have always seemed more mental than anything else; he’s something of a head case himself, and it’s not like he lost miles on his fastball or anything. First he was good, then he was bad. It’s not obvious what changed. It’s hard to really understand the range of emotions that a professional athlete just doesn’t have it anymore, and no amount of money – even ridiculous amounts of money – will replace that person’s pride as somebody who once was really good at something.
Athletic skill, especially pitching, is so temperamental and vague that it can disappear in an instant and nobody will really know where it went or how to get it back. Call it Steve Blass Disease. Call it the Yips. Call it whatever you want, but you were lucky to have it before, and once it’s gone, there’s no obvious way to get it back.
The best comparison I can think of is trilling my tongue. For years I couldn’t do it, but then when I started studying Spanish, suddenly I could. I can’t really explain how I do it, except that if I think about it I can’t do it at all. If tomorrow I woke up and couldn’t trill my tongue, there’s no way I could get it back.
But this year it’s been amazing to see Zito’s reemergence. It hasn’t been without its rough spots, to be sure, but he’s managing to control games in a way I haven’t seen since he donned the O&B so many years ago. People talk about Ryan Vogelsong – for extremely good reason – and the road he traveled to get where he is today. But Zito’s a great story too. He’s someone who could’ve rested on his laurels and his swimming pool full of cash and phoned it in for the rest of the contract, and I’m not sure Giants fans would’ve really noticed. But he’s worked hard and been a good teammate, and I hope to hell it will actually continue to pay off this year.
But also, the offense. There was nothing not to like about this game. The Giants hit early and often, and exorcized a few of their 2-out, RISP demons. Buster Posey got a rest day, and somehow the world survived. Nearly everyone who has been slumping busted out: Panda had two doubles, Blanco got on base three times, Melky had a couple hits, and even Pagan and Sanchez roped two each.
Brandon Watch 2012
Crawford: An infield hit and good defense, including turning the double play in the first inning to help Barry Zito settle down.
Belt: Yeah, not really. Brandon Belt was the only Giants starter, including Barry Zito, not to reach base today. His hitting steak ended Sunday with an 0-3 with two strikeouts, so here’s hoping these two days are just a minor speedbump and not the beginning of a cold spell. Because Aubrey Huff.
Stats of the Day
0: Things not to like about today’s game.
Bonus Stat of the Day
38: Total starts in which Barry Zito has pitched 7+ shutout innings. 13 as a Giant, 25 as an A.