OAKLAND -- Tim Hudson and Barry Zito will take center stage Saturday, and their former teammates are fired up about the matchup. Eric Chavez, a third baseman on those contending A's teams, texted the veteran pitchers this week and asked Hudson how the "air is up there" as a 40-year-old. Hudson hasn't responded yet.
"I've got to put my reading glasses on," he cracked.
"You have to increase the font," Zito said, laughing.
There was a lot of that kind of talk Friday when the two sat side by side in the press conference room at O.co Coliseum. The longtime teammates and friends will start against each other Saturday and both are fired up about an event they called "special" and "unique."
Hudson sat at the podium in his Giants jersey and Zito wore his familiar A's green, but when the pair was asked about their best moments in the big leagues, both gravitated toward San Francisco, not Oakland. Zito said the 2012 postseason holds special meaning for him.
"My journey with the World Series was a down-and-up one," he said. "In 2010, I didn't get to participate. In 2012, I did participate and got to pitch Game 1 against someone (Justin Verlander) with cartoon numbers. It was a highlight of my career. That's what we want -- we want that trophy."
Zito played a huge part in the 2012 title with his performance in Game 1 of the World Series and his brilliant outing in an elimination game at St. Louis. Two years later, it was Hudson who helped the Giants win a title. He had an All-Star first half of the season and threw 7 1/3 innings in Game 2 of the NLDS to keep the Giants within shouting distance of Jordan Zimmermann in a game they ultimately won in 18 innings. On Friday, teammates talked of how Hudson's demeanor and swagger in the clubhouse helped them get through that series. He provided a blueprint for facing the Nationals hitters, too, having pitched so many years in the National League East for the Braves.
Hudson, however, said he was nervous that whole time -- even if it didn't show.
"I hadn't had those kinds of emotions on the baseball field since my rookie year," he said. "It was refreshing to get that feeling again."
Hudson said he benefited from being around so many players who had won multiple titles already. He said the calm of the clubhouse helped him as he dealt with nerves.
"I was biting my fingernails and taking 10 leaks," he joked.
A year later, Hudson is two starts from retirement. Zito may make his final appearance on Saturday, and he said he has had an accelerated spring training over the last week to get his pitch count up. He last appeared in a Triple-A game in Omaha and thought the one inning would be the last of his baseball career. His wife made the trip to watch the appearance.
"I threw a curveball the last pitch," Zito said. "I was like, alright baby, that's it."
Except it wasn't. Billy Beane called with a surprise invite back to the big leagues and now Zito is cramming ahead of his return to a big league rotation. He said he's studying scouting reports of the Giants for the first time.
"I never looked at Buster Posey -- that guy can hit," Zito said.
While Hudson will finish with the Giants, both players started their careers here in Oakland, where they made the A's perennial contenders. They'll throw out the first pitch on Sunday with fellow Big Three ace Mark Mulder, who is retired and now does TV work for ESPN. Hudson was traded to the Braves after 92 wins and two All-Star appearances with the A's. Zito crossed the bridge when he signed a seven-year deal with the Giants that didn't lead to much production until that 2012 postseason. On Friday he said he grew up in Oakland and learned how to "take my knocks like a man and keep (my) chin up" in San Francisco. He said there were times when he wanted to walk out on the media rather than face more questions about not living up to the contract.
"I don't think I ever did that," Zito said. "I wanted to."
His reputation was forever changed by two starts in 2012, and in recent weeks Giants fans pushed for this matchup as much as A's fans did. Both sides are ready for the moment.
"It's a big deal to us," Hudson said. "It's funny, I was talking to a couple guys down in the dugout and some of the kids in the stands right now -- 12, 13, 14-year-old kids -- they don't have a clue who we are. Their parents do, but they're like, 'Huddy? Who is this Hudson guy and Zito guy?' But you know, it's special, man.
"I couldn't have thought of a better way to go out."