LOS ANGELES So many adjectives havebeen used to describe Barry Zito over the past six seasons. Overpaid is atrendy one.
Here is another: deserving.
How else to describe a pitcher who hascontributed to 11 consecutive happy handshake lines on his day to pitch? Whofinally received run support and made it stand up for 15 victories? Who putaside the dented pride that came with being playoff-roster chaff three times in2010, and then resurrected himself from a crisis of confidence at the end ofspring training?
Zito had a killer instinct on the moundTuesday night. It was just the right attitude the Giants needed to eliminatetheir archrivals. Zito was masterful into the seventh inning, left to loud boos the universal sound of respect for a Giant at Dodger Stadium and gave theclub what it needed in a 4-3 victory.
Zito ends the season with a 4.15 ERA identical to where he finished in 2010. But the destination looks so much sunnier this time.
I felt pretty good in that seasonexcept for down the stretch, Zito said. This year, it was different. I wasable to keep my focus and make better pitches. I was able to stay under controlcoming down the way and keep my focus.
He will be on the playoff roster forthe NLDS that begins Saturday at AT&T Park. That much manager Bruce Bochy has confirmed. But when would he pitch?
With a stern start in a playoffenvironment, Zito might have made a case to be the Giants Game 3 starter whenthey hit the road, either to Washington or Cincinnati. He certainly has been abetter, more dependable pitcher than Tim Lincecum this season.
For now, Bochy declined to offer Zitomore than plaudits.
Well get together here, Bochy said.But hes done just a terrific job, particularly when you look at winning thelast 11 games. Its a difficult decision and a lot of variables go into it. Buthes pitched great and had great focus out there. Well go meet Thursday andget this thing set.
You couldnt blame Zito for having asense of entitlement. But he made no demands after becoming the first Giantsince Bill Swift in 1992 to lead his team to victories in 11 consecutivestarts.
Whatevers going to happen is going tohappen, Zito said. Bochy makes the decisions around here. Hes done a heck ofa job to this point and I think we all trust him.
Zito was able to trust in his hittersthis season. They scored at least four runs for him in 18 of his 32 starts, andhe went 13-1 in those games. Hes 40-3 in his Giants career when he receives atleast four runs.
He only had 37 such starts over hisfirst five seasons with the club. Thats an average of 7.4 games per season.
So this has been like a tidal wave ofruns this season. Still, he needed to make them stand up. And he has.
He showed mettle by picking up histeammates twice after mistakes in the field. He didnt shrink in the face ofMatt Kemp, who entered with a .462 average in 52 career at-bats against him.
This time, Zito struck out Kemp twice.And when he faced him with two runners in scoring position in the fifth, he pitchedaggressively inside and then sacrificed his shins to make sure the ball wouldntgo through. When Zito threw in time for the out at first base, it was as chargedas hes appeared on a baseball field in a long, long time.
I was pretty fired up, Zito said. Justa lot of history with Kemp, you know? In a big situation like that, it was goodto be able to jam him a little bit.
It was a memorable jam session. Zitohopes the music can linger into late October.