Barry Zito won the 2002 American League Cy Young Award while playing his home games just across the bay in Oakland. During his seven years with the Athletics, the left-hander was selected to the All-Star game three times. Following his 16 win season in 2006, Barry Zito signed with the San Francisco Giants on the largest contract ever for a pitcher at that time; 7 years, $126 million.
Oakland teammate Mark Ellis said,
"If I was a team going to give money to someone, it would be to him. I don't see anything wrong with Barry getting that much. Give money to someone who's going to go out there every fifth day."
For the first several years of his monster contract, many Giants fans would agree that Zito’s durability was the only thing they could count on from start to start. In fact since joining the Giants, he has made at least 32 starts every season except for 2011.
Zito has been amongst the league leaders in losses every year since crossing the bay in 2007, while never attaining an ERA under four. He has seemingly lost arm strength every year, typically topping out around 84 or 85 MPH.
After making only nine starts in 2011 due to lower body injuries, Zito experienced his best season as a Giant in 2012.
Zito displayed much greater command with all his pitches, resulting in his lowest walks percentage since 2004. Also an improved offense may have given him confidence, as he recorded a 15-8 record with the same earned run average that got him a 9-14 mark two seasons earlier.
The biggest difference in Zito was how he fared in the playoffs. After being left off the active roster in 2010's magical run, Zito not only became a starter in 2012, but a valued one at that.
After getting knocked around by Cincinnati in the Division Series, Zito had the game of his Giants career during Game 5 of the NLCS. The Giants trailed the Cardinals three games to one and would have to win in St. Louis to get the series back to San Francisco. His 7 2/3 shutout innings against one of the most feared lineups in the National League propelled the team to rattle off three consecutive wins and head to the World Series for the second time in three years.
During an interview with Tim Keown from ESPN, Zito talked about his start:
"I think it was holding myself accountable on a moment by moment basis, asking myself, 'Am I giving everything in the tank right now?' The odds were against us and me personally, and so my main focus was simple: I didn't want to ask the question, 'What if I'd done my best?' I think that was the whole premise to that game in St. Louis. I ended up having an uncanny ability to not let anything else affect me."
Zito took the mound during Game 1 of the World Series, facing off against the 2011 MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander. Zito was merely considered an afterthought, and many baseball analysts chose the Tigers to win the World Series largely because of this match-up.
Here's what some ESPN experts had to say:
"Led by Justin Verlander, the Tigers' rotation will rule the World Series and put an end to the Giants' incredible run of success in October."
"The Giants can't match up with the Tigers' dominant starting pitching."
"In the end, the dominance of Detroit's starting pitching is likely too much for the Giants to overcome."
"They have their pitching lined up, while the Giants are going to have to mix and match, and might get only one start from Matt Cain."
"Justin Verlander versus Barry Zito, twice."
Zito would drive in as many runs, one, as he would allow in 5 2/3 innings. His performance shook the baseball world, and helped bring San Francisco it's second Commissioner's Trophy.
Barry Zito hopes to use 2012 as a springboard for 2013, and he is working hard in Spring Training to fix any mechanical flaws. His early success this spring as been apparent to manager Bruce Bochy.
Only time will tell which Zito shows up when he takes the ball during the Giants' home opener on April 5.