Happy Zito Day: Will Giants Pitcher's Redemption Continue, Or Is It Too Good To Be True?
One month ago, if you'd told me that Barry Zito would pitch four straight stellar games, I'd have wondered what Double-A club he would be doing it for. But it's true. Since a pair of obliterations to open up the season, Zito has tossed just over 26 innings and allowed only four earned runs; he's carried a shutout into the sixth inning all four times -- and, subjectively, he's just looked great. It's gotten to the point that we're actually looking forward to the days he pitches (Barry starts vs. Washington this afternoon).
Did we give Zito a hard time in this space? Yes. Yes we did. But, as we took pains to note each time -- and there were many -- it brought no joy to excoriate Barry Zito. He didn't show up to pitch out of shape and loaf on the field. He didn't blow off practice or kick over the clubhouse deli tray. He didn't blame others for his failings. He simply accepted a ludicrously high contract offer and then played badly. Very badly. As a fan, watching his four-inning, 100-pitch performances -- which invariably ended after a few walks, hits and a very long home run in the top of the fifth -- was maddening. But you didn't get angry at Zito. He'd have played better if he could. He just couldn't.
That's why Zito's resurgence has been such a joy -- not unlike pulling a $20 bill out of an old pair of jeans. Who knew that would be there? But it's more than that. It was painful to watch a young, strong man like Zito -- who also seems a decent enough person -- brought so low. Baseball is not supposed to resemble a snuff film, and this was getting borderline demeaning. Zito's strength of character to absorb his ritual beating every fifth day without going off the deep end was admirable -- but these are small victories for a man being exorbitantly paid to win ballgames.
How to approach Zito's rejuvenation is tied to the two quotes I paraphrased from The Shawshank Redemption on opening day:
Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.
Hope is a good thing -- maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.
Well, what's it going to be? The San Francisco Giants -- a franchise that has never won a World Series in this city and has just the 1954 crown to its name over the past 75 seasons -- are a team that, no matter how you slice it, have only offered failure at season's end. It's fitting that the franchise's most hallowed moment -- Bobby Thompson's 1951 "Shot Heard 'Round the World" -- is just such an instance. The transcendent blast advanced the Giants to the World Series -- where they fell to the Yankees in six. No matter how many golden memories of this team we file in the "nostalgia" section of our brains -- and I have more than my share -- the great moments we remember only served to allow the team's later bitter failure.
This is what it is to be a Giants fan; you wait for the other shoe to drop because it always has. Living in anticipation of eventual failure isn't an unreasonable thing to do -- again, it always comes. Then again, it does choke the life and beauty out of the moment.
So, perhaps that's how we should approach the unexpected boon of Barry Zito pitching like it's 2002 again. Hope for the best, expect the worst. Yes, the team will probably fail. Yes, Zito will likely fall back to earth (or, considering his performances from the past two seasons, below sea level). Yes, this season will likely end in failure.
Until it doesn't. Until that one day when the Giants don't lose. And if that day comes -- and we are too jaded, too emotionally callused up to have appreciated it -- well, what good was all the suffering? What was the pain for if we were too numb to appreciate the payoff?
I hope to see that day. I hope it comes soon.