SAN FRANCISCO -- So many times over so many seasons, it seemed the Giants would never reach the end of Barry Zito’s seven-year, $126 million contract.
Zito is in his last stages of guaranteed life as a Giant now. And the club would like to say goodbye in a respectful way to the pitcher who delivered them out of St. Louis last October, who won Game 1 of the World Series , who kept throwing into a net even when he was left off the playoff roster in 2010, and who, by acting as a professional, prevented these past seven years from being so much more roiling and rancorous than they otherwise could have been.
But Zito might not give them a choice.
His return to the rotation resulted in 3 2/3 innings and six runs in a 12-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, and while the defense collapsed several times behind him, the left-hander made his share of mistakes – including an 81 mph cutter to No. 8 hitter Will Middlebrooks that resulted in a two-run home run with an American League pitcher on deck.
[RECAP: Zito shelled, Giants drop series to Red Sox]
“That’s a mental mistake as much as anything,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Just a day earlier, Bochy said he hoped Zito would seize the opportunity and remain in the rotation the rest of the season. Afterward, though, the manager was non-committal on whether he’d give Zito the ball Monday when the Giants begin their next road trip at Coors Field.
Mike Kickham looked like a solid alternative when he threw an impressive sixth inning in relief of Zito, but he got blasted for five runs in the seventh.
“I don’t want to go into the choices,” Bochy said. “But I’ll talk to the staff before we talk about that.”
The staff has a lot of unpleasantness to discuss. The Giants face difficult decisions with some players that involve cutting emotional ties. If it’s purely a baseball evaluation, Zito, and Andres Torres as well, no more belong on the roster than Jeff Francoeur, who was designated for assignment on Tuesday.
But Zito and Torres contributed to rings. And if the Giants under GM Brian Sabean and Bochy have proven anything, it’s that they do not lightly discard players who have set a good example and gone about their business the right way.
Still, it’s entirely possible that Wednesday’s start, the 416th of Zito’s career and 194th as a Giant, was his last in orange and black. He’s winless with a 9.89 ERA in nine starts away from AT&T Park. That includes nine runs over 11 innings spanning two losses at Coors Field, where he had pitched so well in the past.
With him on the mound, the Giants simply have not been a competitive team.
Zito said he was excited to get the ball, he felt good about his pitches for the most part, and “some strange stuff happened out there.” And this game, because it is so unpredictable, is why players both love and hate it.
Zito will not vest his $18 million option, which the Giants can buy out for $7 million. As it stands, this is what he has returned on former owner Peter Magowan’s investment: a 62-78 record in 204 games as a Giant, with a 4.60 ERA and a WHIP beyond 1.40. He’s thrown three complete games, one a shutout. And, last October, he pitched the game of his life. Twice.
He is 35 and wants to keep pitching, and you never put anything past a left-hander. He has spoken more than once of his admiration for Jamie Moyer, who appeared in the major leagues last season as a 49-year-old.
But what about these final five weeks? How, personally, would Zito hope to make a fitting ending?
“First, I want to stay healthy and just capitalize on the opportunity when I get out there,” he said. “Keep being loose and approach this game in a way that allows me to do well.
“It’s not a good thing for me to paint all the scenarios. It’s to be at my best every pitch every game. That’s what will fulfill me.”