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A Proper Goodbye

September 30, 2013

The Giants ended their 2013 campaign with a lot of drama in front of a full house yesterday.  There was a playoff atmosphere, even though both the Giants and the San Diego Padres have been out of contention for most of the season.  Both teams played like the division championship was riding on the line and it was a competitive game right down to the final pitch.  The Giants overcame a Padres 6-3 lead with two runs in the seventh and then two more in the bottom of the ninth against the Padres usually stingy closer, Huston Street, to win the final game of the season 7-6.  Giants fans were thrilled and there were a number of memorable moments for them to take home for the off-season.

It was great to see the win, but for me the real thrill was the chance to see Barry Zito pitch for the team one last time.  I love to watch him pitch and he is my favorite person in baseball, for all the reasons we like and respect people.

After Zito’s excellent outing last Wednesday, Bruce Bochy pulled him in the bottom of the fifth inning of a tight game for a pinch-hitter.  Many thought that Zito had the Dodgers stymied and that it was too early to pull him.  I certainly did.  But these are the kind of decisions that should be left to the skipper and others there at the center of the action.  No matter how many years I’ve watched this great game, what sense does it make for me to second guess these guys, remote control in hand and sitting on the green overstuffed chair twenty-five miles away?  You can see Zito take it up with Bochy in the dugout at seventy seconds into the video below.

A dangling item remained from this outing last Wednesday.  The fans, who were enjoying what seemed likely as the very last time he would pitch for the team, were not able to give him curtain call applause.  Right away, there was talk and speculation about how this could be remedied.  Bochy responded that he would find a spot during the weekend and the anticipation built during the run-up to the final two games.

Sunday’s scene was perfectly orchestrated.  The Padres were down 6-5 in the eighth inning and there were two outs when Mark Kotsay was coming to the plate.  Kotsay, a sixteen-year veteran respected throughout all of baseball, had announced his retirement and was playing in his last game.  He and Zito know each other.  They were teammates with the Oakland A’s and he is a player that supports Strikeouts for Troops, the organization that Zito started to support veterans and their families.

Bochy had already decided that this would be a good matchup for Zito and was managing the bullpen towards the moment.  Baseball strategy – Kotsay is a left-handed hitter and Zito is a lefty.  History – Kotsay had only one hit in eight previous plate appearances against Zito.  Human element – these fine two people are former teammates and friends.  Drama – both are moving on from their current positions.  Doesn’t the movie industry give out awards for stories like this?

Zito was excellent.  He started out with a 79-mph slider at the letters that was called for a strike and then followed with a 71-mph curve ball that Kotsay watched the umpire call strike two.  His third pitch was another slow (73 mph) curve ball.  This time Kotsay swung early and fouled it off the plate.

They both seemed to be relishing their moment.  At this point, Buster Posey made a trip out the mound to make sure he and Zito were in agreement on the next pitch.  After that was settled and Posey was back in his squat behind the plate, we were treated with a beauty – an outside fastball that Kotsay could not hit.  Nobody has ever mistaken Zito’s fastball with Randy Johnson’s; this one to Kotsay was only 85 mph.  But it’s just not easy for a batter to hit when they are trying to come back from those nasty curve balls.  You can watch all four pitches right here if you like.

And now Giants fans, players, coaches and the entire organization had their opportunity to show Barry Zito just how much they think of him.  He must have felt like he was six inches off the ground as he left the field.  Mike Krukow, a former major league pitcher himself and now an announcer for the Giants television broadcasts, said after the game that Zito “has left a BVXZ3tYCUAAvxCdlasting impression on every young pitcher that has walked through Mike Murphy’s clubhouse.”  I have no doubt that he has and clearly, he affected 41,495 fans out at the yard yesterday also.  They cheered as if they couldn’t say enough.  In a gesture of affection and full respect (video), his teammates would not let him back into the dugout until he tipped his cap to the crowd a little longer.  Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and some of the other big boys barricaded the entrance and encouraged him to enjoy the fans’ appreciation.  This time you can see Bochy meet him at sixty seconds into the video, both with ear-to-ear smiles.  Teammates lined up to have their photo taken with him and were pleased to share in the moment.  Krukow and the guys in the booth said that they were choked-up.  They were not alone.

This weekend, someone who knows Barry Zito told me that he is very special.  I second that.  I am going to miss watching him pitch and will be at a loss next season when my favorite person in baseball is no longer wearing a Giants uniform.

Fare thee well, Barry.

From → Baseball

2 Comments
  1. Those words from Krukow about Zito leaving a lasting impression on every pitcher walking thru Murphy’s clubhouse coupled with you sharing some of Zito’s contributions to US troops in the post “a baseball fan’s early lesson”…well, I have a more dynamic view of Zito now., to say the least.

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  2. Zito was never for everybody. He was loved before the contract and resented afterwards.

    For me, he was always fun to watch pitch. The fact that he stuck to his pitching and kept quiet while sports talk radio wanted to tar and feather him made me cheer for him even more. He was going through difficult times with health issues in his family, but most of the boo birds didn’t care. He was always an excellent teammate, a gentleman and generous guy. I never agreed to pay him $126 million from my wallet to throw a baseball. When the suits in the Giants and A’s front offices start calling me for advice on their player contracts, perhaps I start to take a player’s performance a little more personally. No matter, I’d much rather have a roster of players I can cheer for than a team of immature knuckleheads and bad actors.

    There were long stretches when you would think the people on talk radio or some of the loud mouths in the stands had personally written those checks to him and now wanted their money back. Put all of them together and their character couldn’t match Zito’s. (And not one of them could get a bat on his curve ball.)

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