Opening day for the 2011 Major League Baseball season is a week away, and this year’s defending champions are the San Francisco Giants, much to the surprise of many people who follow baseball. The Giants won last year’s World Series with incredible starting pitching, a dependable, shut-down bullpen anchored by an eccentric closer, timely hitting with cagey and hungry veteran players, and the emergence of a franchise catcher who will anchor the team for years to come. But there is one more factor that played into the Giant’s success last season. Barry Zito.
Barry Zito did not record one win, get one out, or even throw one strike last post season. He wasn’t even on the active post-season roster. But the southpaw’s contribution went beyond the line score because of his professionalism and understanding of the bigger picture and how the pieces fit into the Giants championship puzzle.
Last season, Barry Zito began the year looking like the pitcher who won the 2002 Cy Young Award as he started out 6-0 with his curveball snapping and fooling hitters, a renewed explosiveness and command with the fastball, and deception and control with his changeup. However, Zito had an early flame out, finishing the season 1-8 in his last 11 games with a 6.66 ERA. His 1.79 strikeouts-to-walks ratio was 80th of 92 qualifiers, and he finished with fewer than 10 wins for the first time since his rookie season and a higher ERA than his 2009 season, all while making $18.5 million. Zito’s poor performance, which was capped off by a three inning outing in the last series against the Padres where he walked two batters with the bases loaded in the first inning, resulted in him getting booed off the field.
While Zito’s actions on the field to end the season almost cost the Giants a chance to win baseball’s ultimate prize, his actions during the post-season were just as instrumental as Edgar Renteria’s three-run home run in Game 5 of the World Series, or Cody Ross’ incredible NLCS against the heralded Phillies. Zito took the high road and accepted his role as spectator and coach. He said publicly “My heart and soul is in this clubhouse, I have no other options in myself than to pull for every one of these guys.” Zito understood that the man who replaced him on the post-season starting rotation, Madison Bumgardner, who recorded a 7-6 record with a 3.00 ERA, was better and gave the team a better chance to win. Zito was at every game, standing on the side rail, watching, and more importantly, coaching the young staff. He never once complained publicly, or even looked unhappy.
Barry Zito may not have contributed to the team’s success on the field, but it’s his type of veteran support that helps championship teams win.Google+
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