Honored Zito focused on job of starting Game 1

Honored Zito focused on job of starting Game 1

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's a part of his job Giants manager Bruce Bochy doesn't relish, dropping the poison pill in a player's ear the way he had to do when he told veteran Barry Zito the team's postseason roster had no place for him in October 2010.

World Series

So on Tuesday, when Bochy informed Zito that the left-hander will make the Game 1 start in the 2012 World Series, he couldn't help but enjoy the opportunity to pass along much better news.

"I couldn't be happier for him. It says a lot about his mental toughness, his makeup," Bochy said.

Cy Young matchup
This will be just the ninth time in World Series history that previous Cy Young Award recipients have started against each other in the Fall Classic.
Date Game Pitchers and WS teams Winner
11/1/2010 5 Cliff Lee/Rangers vs. Tim Lincecum/Giants Giants
10/27/2010 1 Cliff Lee/Rangers vs. Tim Lincecum/Giants Giants
10/28/2009 1 Cliff Lee/Phillies vs. CC Sabathia/Yankees Phillies
10/27/1999 4 John Smoltz/Braves vs. Roger Clemens/Yankees Yankees
10/22/1996 3 David Cone/Yankees vs. Tom Glavine/Braves Yankees
10/26/1995 5 Greg Maddux/Braves vs. Orel Hershiser/Indians Indians
10/21/1995 1 Orel Hershiser/Indians vs. Greg Maddux/Braves Braves
10/14/1983 3 Mike Flanagan/Orioles vs. Steve Carlton/Phillies Orioles

Zito, 34, is light years away from that 2010 disappointment, coming off a brilliant start in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series and matched against Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the opener of the Giants' second appearance in the World Series in three years.

Suffice to say, this little bit of news was something Bochy didn't mind delivering.

"For him to keep grinding, as we say, and trying to get better, for him to be at this point and starting the first game, I was really glad, proud to tell him that," Bochy said Tuesday.

Two years later is, well, two years later, and 2010 is not something Zito really focuses on as he is back where he and the Giants believe he belongs -- on the mound in a crucial postseason game.

"It's not important to reflect right now. There's work to do," Zito said. "I'm going to be on the mound here in the next 24 hours, so that's where my focus is at."

Tale of the Tape: Game 1
Justin Verlander
Tigers
Barry Zito
Giants
2012 regular season
Overall: 33 GS, 17-8, 2.64 ERA, 60 BB, 239 K Overall: 32 GS, 15-8, 4.15 ERA, 70 BB, 114 K
Key stat: He has posted a 0.69 ERA in his last seven starts, going back to the regular season. Key stat: Including the postseason, he has lasted at least 5 2/3 innings and allowed no more than three runs in six of his last seven starts.
At AT&T Park
2012: N/A
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 3.00 ERA
2012: 17 GS, 8-5, 4.00 ERA
Career: 86 GS, 30-35, 4.21 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: N/A
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 3.00 ERA
2012: N/A
Career:16 GS, 8-6, 2.91 ERA
Loves to face: Marco Scutaro: 5-for-25, 9 K
Hates to face: Angel Pagan: 2-for-5, 3B, RBI
Loves to face: Omar Infante: 3-for-20, 4 K
Hates to face: Delmon Young: 2-for-3, 2B, RBI
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: He has dominated throughout the postseason and owns a career 2.64 ERA in Interleague Play, including 1.62 this year. Why he'll win: Zito threw seven shutout innings in Game 5 of the NLCS, and the Tigers have been weaker against left-handed pitching.
Pitcher beware: Verlander gave up 10 runs -- seven earned -- over 11 innings in his other World Series appearance, in 2006. Pitcher beware: AL clubs reached Zito for 16 earned runs on 23 hits and four homers in 14 2/3 innings this season.
Bottom line: Verlander is the Tigers' ace, one of the elite pitchers in baseball and has been pitching at his best of late. Bottom line: Zito's well-paid tenure with the Giants has been shaky, but he came up huge in his last start, with the season on the line.
Anyone who watched his Game 5 performance in the NLCS and saw his locked stare toward home plate knows that a focused Zito who is on his game -- his curveball working its magic and his fastballs hitting their spots -- is a difficult assignment for any lineup.

Zito pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball for what ranks as his best postseason outing, edging out a couple of strong showings among his seven postseason starts with the A's from 2000-2006. In a season which began with an uncanny shutout of the Rockies at Coors Field on April 9, his Game 5 start stands up with any of his best outings during the regular season as well.

With that outing, Zito helped save the Giants' season, sending their best-of-seven series back home, where they finished the job.

"You know, it was a big game, definitely," Zito said. "I just knew that we had to get the series back to San Francisco and we had to get the fans involved, and they came out with more energy than I saw really at any time, even in 2010. That was the difference for us."

Zito will be in the center of that orange-tinged excitement from the very first pitch of Game 1, the first postseason game played between the Giants and the Tigers.

Brian Wilson, the Giants' closer who is sidelined for the 2012 postseason as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, is among Zito's teammates who's glad to see the transition from 2010 to where he will be Wednesday.

"I think it's huge, and I know he's going to savor every moment of it," Wilson said. "It's a little poetic justice, I think. It shows that it's paying off, and he never wavered."

Zito, the 2002 American League Cy Young Award winner, is facing defending Cy Young winner Verlander in the ninth matchup in a World Series of two former winners of pitching's greatest honor. As much as 2010 was a long time ago, 2002 was practically a lifetime ago for Zito, who was part of an Oakland rotation that was the cornerstone of a team that made five postseason appearances from 2000-2006.

Signed to a seven-year, $126 million contract to move across the Bay Bridge, Zito's Giants career has had its share of frustrations, reflected in a 58-69 record and 4.47 ERA since 2007.

"When I came up in Oakland, I felt like I was a boy in the game," Zito said. "You have talent, and you just keep going to the next level, and all of a sudden everyone is kind of like looking at you and there's fans chanting your name and stuff, and you're not really sure why.

"You know, and then to mature in this game is a big deal. That process is in huge part becoming a free agent, going to a new team, signing a big deal and dealing with everything that comes with that. So I feel like an adult in the game now."

As it turned out, getting the good word to Zito that he'd be making the Game 1 start wasn't as simple as Bochy would have liked. He kept trying to call Zito's cell phone, but Zito had left it at the ballpark, so it wasn't until before Tuesday's workout at AT&T Park that Bochy could make it official: Zito is getting the ball for Game 1.

"He was ecstatic. He was proud, honored that we have the trust in him to start Game 1," Bochy said.

Along with that, Zito was focused on the job at hand, so much so that reflecting on the biggest start of his career is about as important to him as reflecting on his biggest career disappointment in 2010, one that has been turned on its head in 2012.

"Yeah, it means a lot," Zito said of getting the ball for Game 1. "Like I said earlier, it's hard to reflect and really become third person about this experience. It's more about right now just going out and preparing for a ballgame against a good team. You know, I can look back on everything when I'm back home."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.