SAN FRANCISCO – From postseason bystander to starting the World Series opener. That’s how far Barry Zito has come in two years to resurrect his career.
The resurgent left-hander will pitch Game 1 for the San Francisco Giants tonight against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.
Manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday he will go with Zito, who has turned around his career this year – and Bochy was eager and proud to give the pitcher the news, once they finally connected, that is.
“I tried to call him all day. He left his phone at the ballpark, so I couldn’t get ahold of him,” Bochy said. “But he was ecstatic. He was proud, honored that we have the trust in him to start Game 1.”
Zito’s stellar outing in a 5-0 victory on Friday night in Game 5 of the N.L. championship series at Busch Stadium helped San Francisco rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals to return to the World Series for the second time in three years.
Left off the postseason roster for all three rounds when the Giants won it all in 2010, Zito made a conscious decision to find his way by just plain having fun again – forgetting one bad start and moving on to the next.
“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.”
For Bochy, leaving Zito off the roster was among the toughest calls he has made as a manager. That made delivering the good news Tuesday so much sweeter.
“I couldn’t be happier for him. It says a lot about his mental toughness, his makeup,” Bochy said. “I mentioned this in 2010, it wasn’t easy not to put him on the postseason roster. He was struggling in September. But the way he handled it was so impressive. He went out, I think he threw a bullpen that day, and throughout the postseason he kept himself ready in case something happened. He didn’t hang his head and he even threw to hitters.”
Bochy credits the work Zito did with pitching coach Dave Righetti to constantly make adjustments and find what would work.
“It’s hard to sum it up in one answer,” Zito said. “It’s just a plethora of things that I’ve done and gone through here with the Giants. But the most important thing was to come out and give everything I’ve got.”
The 2002 A.L. Cy Young Award winner with Oakland went 15-8 for his most wins since joining the Giants before the 2007 season.
Detroit’s Delmon Young knows just how much this means to Zito. They worked out together in the offseason following San Francisco’s 2010 title run.
“He was still happy to be a Giant,” Young said. “He was happy that he won a World Series and everything but he wanted to make sure that he was going to actually contribute. He worked his butt off. Now he’s earned what he wanted.”
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