Giants show appreciation for Zito, a 'gentleman in the game'
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SAN FRANCISCO -- As Barry Zito prepared to face the Dodgers on Wednesday in what could be the final start of his Giants career, there was a palpable sense of appreciation buzzing around the team's clubhouse.

It was a scheduled start for Madison Bumgarner, but manager Bruce Bochy and the Giants staff elected to make Wednesday Zito's swan song.

[REWIND: Giants shut down Bumgarner, give farewell start to Zito]

"I'm excited to give him this start and give him one more start before the season is over," said Bochy, whose Giants tenure has mirrored Zito's as each joined the franchise during the 2007 offseason.

There's no denying the three-time All-Star is ready for it. Without any indication he'd get to pitch again this year, the lefty took an extensive bullpen in New York to be prepared for whatever role Bochy had in store for him. When pitching coach Dave Righetti informed Zito he was getting the start on Wednesday, he reacted as a rookie might, not like you'd expect from a 14-year veteran wrapping up his worst career season for a fourth-place team.

"He said 'I'm ready, I'm pumped,'" Bochy explained. "He's excited for this start."

Zito's .323 opponent's average this season is, by far, the highest by any pitcher in Giants franchise history (minimum 100 innings). He enters Wednesday with a 62-80 (.437) record and a 4.63 ERA over seven seasons with the Giants.

On the surface, it's a meaningless start at the end of a lost season, but there's no doubt Zito is putting everything he has into it. A victory would ensure the Giants a winning record against the Dodgers in their season series for the fourth consecutive year, and it would allow Zito to close his Orange and Black chapter with a happy ending.

"The thing about Barry," Bochy said, "he's never stopped working, no matter what role we've put him in."

And short of saving games, he's seen just about every pitching role that exists. He's been a front-end rotation guy, more often a back-end rotation guy, a bullpen guy -- both in long relief and as a specialist, and he's been a guy with no role at all -- when he was left off the Giants' 2010 playoff roster.

"There's a lot of stuff he could complain about," Bumgarner said. "But I've never heard him say a negative word about anything."

Bumgarner, whose locker has been adjacent to Zito's for his entire five-year career, admitted he would rather be making his scheduled start himself. But he glowed when asked what type of teammate Zito has been.

"He's a lot tougher than people realize," Bumgarner said. "He's a gentleman in the game, a great competitor. He's really a good teammate, one of the best teammates I've had in my short career so far. He'll be hard to top."

As Zito arrived in San Francisco in 2007 with a newly-minted seven-year, $126 million contract, the "stuff" that earned him the 2002 Cy Young Award departed. The pin-point accurate tailing fastball lost velocity, while his sharp and biting curveball got bigger and slower.

"He's such a class guy," Bochy said. "That's what I've always admired about Barry, because he has had his ups and downs. He's never run and he's always there to talk about it."

"He's been a great example," said Marco Scutaro, who was Zito's teammate in Oakland for three seasons from 2004 to 2006. "A player like him, who used to play at such a high level, it's not easy. It takes lot of courage. I really admire him -- how he prepares and tries to get better."

The on-field product in San Francisco hasn't always been what Zito wanted, but as his teammate will acknowledge, the lefty's dedication has never strayed. 

"On and off the field," Sergio Romo said, "he's what all of us strive to be. You don't see him wavering."