I’m not someone who usually likes first-person sportswriting. However, I feel like there’s no other way that I could possibly describe how great of an impact Barry Zito has had on the lives of San Francisco Giants supporters, including mine, over the past seven years. As he makes his final start as a member of the Giants, I’d like to reminisce about Zito’s ever-interesting career in San Francisco.
When Zito arrived in San Francisco in 2007, there was unbelievable excitement. How could there not be? After all, he had been given a seven-year, $126 million-dollar contract, which at the time the largest contract for any pitcher in major league history.
As a 13-year-old Giants fan, I know I was ecstatic. My birthday gifts were a massive Zito fathead and a no. 75 jersey. With their two big Barrys, Zito and legendary slugger Barry Bonds, the Giants seemed to have a very good chance to be competitive.
Instead, the highly-paid lefthander put every San Francisco fan through a difficult exercise in patience. He got off to a rough start in 2007 and failed to put any consistent string of starts together. Even more frustrating than Zito just being flat-out awful was the fact that the club had no idea what to expect out of him when he took the mound.
This didn’t really change over the next few years, either. He was terrible in 2008, taking the loss in his first seven starts and finishing with a 10-17 record and a 5.15 ERA. Zito moved into a back-of-the-rotation role and continued with his inconsistent ways.
Zito’s importance began to be felt more during 2010. He started off on fire, beginning with a 5-0 record. After a solid first half, though, he fizzled out after the break and had losses in 10 of the last 11 starts in which he got the decision. He was left off the playoff roster, and things certainly seemed to be on the downswing.
That being said, it couldn’t be denied that Zito’s early success was at least a small reason why the Giants were able to achieve enough success to win their first World Series in San Francisco.
He had a down year in 2011, and it looked like maybe the Giants were finally ready to let him go. He spent a large chunk of the season on the DL, and Ryan Vogelsong seized his rotation spot. However, the team instead traded away lefty Jonathan Sanchez, giving Zito a chance to stay in the rotation.
He didn’t look like he belonged there in spring training, though. In one of his final starts against the Chicago White Sox, he gave up nine hits and five runs in 2.1 innings, showing no signs of velocity. I thought he was done for sure; there was no way a guy who threw as softly as he did could face big-league hitters.
But after keeping his spot by default, Zito changed all of our minds in 2012 and was the saving grace in the team’s World Series-winning season. After the Giants were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks to begin the season, Zito threw a complete-game shutout in Colorado to give them their first victory.
There’s no telling what would’ve happened if he hadn’t bailed them out with that start. Zito may not have been exceptionally consistent over the rest of the regular season, but he was clutch down the stretch. The team won the last 11 games that he started, and he had a 3.03 ERA in September.
The most memorable moment of his Giants career, though, came in Game 5 of the 2012 NLCS. The Giants were down 3-1, and seemed to be destined for elimination. But Zito came through in spectacular fashion, delivering 7.2 shutout innings. I must say that this was one of the most electrifying moments I’ve been a part of since I started watching the Giants.
Zito’s success was the springboard for the Giants coming back and going on to win the World Series, during which he started Game 1 and delivered a very solid 5.2-inning effort en route to a victory.
Say whatever you want about Zito’s career, but it was definitely memorable. He’s been a staple of the most successful era the team has had since moving to San Francisco. As inconsistent as he’s been, I associate Zito with victory, and it will be sad to see him go.