|Tip your cap, Barry Zito. You've earned it. (US Presswire)|
SAN FRANCISCO -- Only a night like Pablo Sandoval's could overshadow a night like Barry Zito's. While Sandoval plopped himself down among the game's history-makers, Zito turned in a second straight playoff gem. In Game 5 of the NLCS, he shut down the hard-hitting Cardinals, and in Game 1 of the World Series he suffocated the Tigers.
As already noted in this space, Zito was set up to befuddle a team like Detroit before he ever threw a pitch on Wednesday night. He did not disappoint: 5 2/3 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 3 K, 1 BB. Of his 81 pitches, 53 went for strikes. That wouldn't be an especially notable line for, say, Justin Verlander. But this is Barry Zito, whose present contract had caused mass hand-wringing throughout baseball and who hasn't had a true standout season since he wore the green and gold and toiled across the Bay. But on this night, Zito seemed like the baffling lefty of those Oakland days. Bake in his Game-1 efforts, and he's now toting around a career postseason ERA of 2.84.
After the game, Giants manager Bruce Bochy complimented Zito's "focus and concentration" on the mound and, more to the point, his ability to locate the ball and change speeds. That's important for a soft-tosser like Zito, whose fastball in Game 1 topped out at a fairly typical 86.1 miles per hour. And speaking of changing speeds, here's Zito's Game-1 velo chart, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net ...
That, in industry parlance, is indeed known as "changing speeds."
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As for the author of those pitches, Zito was more inclined to credit preparation in general and a quiet mind in particular. In Bochy's own words, Zito was "excited" to be tasked with starting the World Series opener, and in Zito's own words the opportunity was "magical." So Zito's first challenge, before Austin Jackson ever toed the dirt in the top of the first, was to submerge that excitement. "... When you start kind of buying into all the hype and everything, you lose yourself a little bit," Zito said after it was done. "And so I was just very adamant on keeping everything slow pretty much from when I got up today."
He did just that. He slowed it down in the first inning when he retired the lethal Prince Fielder on a first pitch cutter with one out and two on. He did in the second when he killed the side on 13 pitches. And he surely did in the fourth when he induced a most unlikely 2-6 double play out of Delmon Young. Heck, he may have even slowed it down in the home half of the fourth when he somehow rapped a hard base knock off Verlander. Just as he did his last time out against the Cardinals, Zito summoned up the pitch-to-contact sorcery that's defined the best moments and years of his career.
His secret? It's perfectly Zitonian in its puzzling simplicity: "Yeah, I mean, hitting and pitching are essentially the same."
And the people say: "Eh?"
Well, to be fair, that kind of sounds like a guy who limited a tough lineup to only one run, which is exactly what he did. It also sounds like a guy who notched an unlikely RBI single, which is exactly what he did. It also sounds like vintage Barry Zito, which, tonight, is exactly what he was.