By Claire Reclosado-Baclay
That was the way Barry Zito described his opportunity to play in the postseason.
Not too long ago, it wasn’t surprising to hear boos emanate from the seats that filled AT&T Park in a game that Zito started.
Soon the achievements of his fellow starters began to create a brighter spotlight on his struggles.
Zito went from being left off the San Francisco Giants 2010 postseason roster to starting Game One of the 2012 World Series. Not only did he start the Game One, he was the winning pitcher in the contest where San Francisco beat the Detroit Tigers 8-3.
Talk about coming a long way.
Sometimes, people can forget that professional athletes are human. Since they are in the public eye, there is an unfounded belief that exists that it is acceptable to throw useless criticism and insults their direction because of who they are and what they do. Reasons like their salary, or their choice of profession, even they way they carry themselves are used to justify why it is should be okay to put tact aside.
Rather than engage the ornery, Zito focused on getting better. In the past seasons he has mentioned various ways he has been trying to improve, whether it was not focusing on accolades or just remembering what it was like to play the game before entering the big leagues. Regardless of the method, he was constantly trying.
With his performance in the 2012 postseason, he has raised the eyebrows—and even silenced—many cynics.
The Cy Young award winner went from being booed in AT&T Park to becoming the home crowd’s beloved player.
Despite the prevalence of disparagement in the past, especially from fans, since he signed that infamous $126M contract, Zito always remained calm, never lashing back or perpetuating the contentious.
“I think that’s helped him a lot through the peaks and valleys,” San Francisco catcher Buster Posey said of Zito’s composure. “Even when things aren’t going his way he still keeps his cool, keeps his head, and continues to grind and work.”
It would have been easy to just ignore the frustration, get that paycheck, and go through the motions, but he worked hard every season to try to find a way to improve—this season was no exception.
This season, something clicked. There was no way he was going to let another postseason pass where he was relegated to the dugout while his teammates fought on the field toward a World Series win.
“I battled in September to make the postseason roster,” Zito said on Wednesday night. “The last thing I would have expected at that point was to be starting Game One. Just the opportunity was just magical. To be able to go up against Verlander and give our team a chance to go up 1‑0, and the fact that we won, it’s just kind of surreal. It’s just a pleasure to be a part of it all.”
Zito just wasn’t a “part of it all”, he served as a catalyst for this Giants team. When the offseason seemed to be creeping a bit closer, it was Zito who ignited a change on the field by pitching brilliantly.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy even went so far as to label him the team’s “lucky charm”.
While he may be lucky for San Francisco, Tigers manager Jim Leyland recognized Zito’s resiliency.
“I think sometimes you can always tell when a pitcher is really a tough competitor with the at‑bat that he had,” Leyland said. “I know that sounds a little strange, but he was grinding out that at‑bat and ended up getting a base hit. That tells you something about Barry Zito.”
With that at-bat, Zito hit an RBI single off of highly-touted Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander and helped his team make history once again. The Giants became the first team to have their starting pitchers drive in a run in four consecutive postseason games.
Of course, it was Zito who began that streak with a bunt RBI in Game Five of the NLCS.
Not bad for the pitcher who used to be an afterthought on a starting staff of superstar arms.
This postseason, he was in the spotlight—not one of disapproval, but one of appreciation. He earned that start in Game One of the 2012 World Series.
As he walked off the mound on Monday night, a new familiar sound began to echo throughout AT&T Park—chants of “Barry! Barry!” were showered onto Zito, to which he replied with a simple tip of the cap.
Claire Reclosado-Baclay is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco Giants. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.