ANAHEIM (CBS / AP) — Barry Zito’s big league career began 15 years ago with a win over the Angels in Oakland. It might have ended Wednesday with four innings against the Angels in the waning days of a losing season.
If this was it for the 37-year-old left-hander with the nastiest of curveballs, Zito is content with his first and final appearances for the A’s — and most of what came in between.
“There’s nice bookends,” said Zito, thinking back to his July 2000 debut against the then-Anaheim Angels. “I’m from Southern California, so it was great to come back down here. I had a lot of friends in the stands — 30 people came tonight — and a lot of support. … I’m sure I’ll start getting reflective here in the next few days and next few hours. I just want to get home and consider everything, but I feel complete with everything.”
Zito didn’t pitch long enough to get the victory, and he was long gone by the time Sean Doolittle retired Collin Cowgill on a tame groundout to end Oakland’s 8-7 win over Los Angeles, which stopped the Angels’ seven-game winning streak and provided a small boost for a last-place team.
But Zito left with a lead despite yielding four walks and four hits, including homers by Mike Trout and David Freese. Several wild innings later, the Cy Young Award winner could celebrate one last big league win with his teammates.
“We don’t win that game unless Barry pitches,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I mean, he had a big part of that. When he came out of the game, we were ahead against a team that’s playing great and swinging the bat great. … It was tough to take him out of the game, (but) I wanted him to finish up in a way that he had something good to feel good about and have a lead.”
After a career with more ups and downs than his incredible breaking balls, Zito has plenty to feel good about in the waning days of a life in baseball. The former USC pitcher has 165 victories and a World Series ring, and his $126 million contract from San Francisco likely left him set for life.
“He’s one of the great pitchers the Bay Area has ever seen,” Melvin said. “I mean, if you live in the Bay Area, you know what he’s all about. He pitched on both sides of the Bay, won a Cy Young and was instrumental in the rise of the A’s during their generation of playoff runs. Performance-wise, he’s one of the class guys I’ve ever managed, and I’ve been managing a long time.”
Zito spent most of this season in the minors after a year out of baseball, working to get one last shot to end his career on his own terms. With a late-season recall to the dismal A’s, he got to start against the Giants’ Tim Hudson last weekend in an early-2000s Oakland reunion.
“It was exciting to be able to get an opportunity to come back and play in the major leagues after I thought I wasn’t going to be able to this year,” Zito said. “I’m really grateful for that opportunity.”
Zito got one more shot against the Angels thanks to Sonny Gray’s injury, and he relished all 76 pitches.
“I definitely wanted to go back out there (for the fifth inning),” Zito said. “But I also knew that if I did, (Melvin) was going to have a pretty quick trigger because we were trying to beat them and spoil their playoff hopes. And if you can’t be in it yourself, there’s no more fun than to have an impact on a playoff situation like that.”
Several of Zito’s teammates made big plays to make sure he went out with a win. Stephen Vogt had a tiebreaking two-run single during Oakland’s four-run rally in the seventh, while Ryan Dull (1-1) got five outs for his first major league victory for the A’s, who won for the second time in 11 games.
Trout was on third base when Doolittle retired pinch-hitter Cowgill on a meek groundout, completing a wild five-out save.
Athletics: Carson Blair had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. The catcher should be ready for spring training.
Angels: Joe Smith pitched for the first time since Sept. 17, returning after spraining his ankle on a hotel staircase.
Athletics: After a day off, Aaron Brooks (2-4, 7.26 ERA) opens the season-ending series in Seattle.
Angels: Rookie Andrew Heaney (6-3, 3.29 ERA) opens the crucial four-game series at Texas.
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