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2012 NLCS: Barry Zito Emerges The Unlikely Hero In Game 5

Alexa Girkout |
October 21, 2012 | 11:34 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Barry Zito triumphed over the Cardinals in a vintage performance (Creative Commons).
Barry Zito triumphed over the Cardinals in a vintage performance (Creative Commons).
The $126 million man proved to be invaluable on Friday night. With a truly heroic outing, Giants left hander Barry Zito delivered one of the best performances of his career when the team needed him most.

The Giants were on the brink of elimination, heading into Game 5 trailing the reigning World Series Champion Cardinals three games to one. This was a game in which everything needed to go right for San Francisco; the hot-and-cold offense needed to be the former and a usually dominant pitching staff needed to be flawless. And manager Bruce Bochy was putting the ball in Zito’s hand.

The former Cy Young award winner has had a tumultuous relationship with the franchise to say the very least. In one of the most notoriously ill-advised contracts, the Giants signed Zito for a seven-year, $126 million contract—the highest salary for any pitcher in Major League history at the time.

It is not sufficient enough to say that fans have been disappointed with the deal. In fact, it has been a sore subject for many who have been rather vocal about their frustration. The 34-year-old veteran has been booed off the field on numerous occasions and even deactivated his Twitter due to the contents of his inbox. 

That’s not to say that all of the criticisms have been unfounded. Zito has hardly lived up to his Cy Young title during his stay in the Bay Area and the Giants’ managerial staff has made a job of brushing his shortcomings under the rug for the last six years. 

Zito’s inconsistency and unreliability was perhaps most noticeable when he was kept off the postseason roster in 2010 and watched from the bench as his team out-pitched the Rangers  to secure its first franchise World Series.

Despite posting his best record since 2006 when he went 16-10 with the Oakland Athletics (this year, he’s 15-8), there were many reservations about entrusting Zito with pitching in a high-pressure, high-stakes situation. 

In his start against the Reds in the NLDS, Zito lasted only 2 2/3 innings in which he gave up two earned runs, walked four batters and allowed a home run off the bat of Ryan Ludwick. It was only due to a miraculous performance by his clubhouse ally Tim Lincecum that the Giants were able to elude elimination.

But perhaps some fans noticed that the Giants had won each of Zito’s last 12 starts, or maybe their Hail Mary hopes pushed them to exert all their effort in support of their rotation’s black sheep. On Twitter, a platform that had once been the source of much devastation and harassment for the former USC Trojan southpaw, #RallyZito was ablaze. 

This time, fans weren’t disappointed.

The Cardinals were undeniably thrown a curveball (literally and metaphorically); the left-handed Zito was supposed to be an easy target for a lineup comprising mainly right-handed hitters. What they got instead was the Zito of Oct. 3, 2006, the date that the then-Athletic had his last playoff win against Johan Santana and the Minnesota Twins.

On Friday night, Zito took the mound with a fastball that tickled 85 miles per hour on the radar (don’t laugh—it certainly fooled the Cardinal lineup) and the nasty curveball for which he’s famous. 

He surrendered only six hits and an intentional walk in the second inning that helped him escape a bases-loaded jam, thanks to a double play by opposing starting pitcher Lance Lynn. Zito held hitters to 0-6 with runners in scoring position.

In an 115-pitch outing (his most in two years), Zito shut out the Cardinals for 7 2/3 innings and left the final four outs to bullpen star Sergio Romo. Zito even helped his own cause in the fourth with a bunt base hit that scored one of the Giants’ five runs.

In the most unlikely turn of events, Barry Zito became the Game 5 hero. Was his performance worth the price? To a lot of fans, yes, or at least in the post-game high. For now, #RallyZito both on and off Twitter is trending and it’s irrefutable that the Giants wouldn’t be alive to see a Game 6 without Zito. 


Reach Staff Writer Alexa Girkout here; follow her here.



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