Barry Zito and his unicornAt the end of this post, there’s a contest question about how you, dear reader, feel about the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. But first, let’s take a tour through a remarkable start by Barry Zito. Since today I found out that I’ll be going on with Marty Lurie on Saturday at 1 pm, and he’s fond of talking about the “story of the season,” I figured I’d break down Zito’s book by chapters represented by innings.

First Inning

After Coco Crisp laced a double down the left field line off Zito, Jed Lowrie walked. On the very next pitch to Yoenis Cespedes, Crisp and Lowrie pulled off a double steal. Bob Melvin might as well have stepped out of the dugout and crotch-chopped in Bruce Bochy’s general direction. “We’ve been killing you all series, and now we’re going to crush you from the start,” the A’s appeared to be saying.

Then something weird happened, which perhaps isn’t weird at all since the unexpected often happens with Zito on the mound. He retired the next three hitters to get out of the inning unscathed (theme alert).

Second Inning

Zito walked Oakland’s pitcher with a Derek Norris on first with two outs. A.J. Griffin’s free pass set up a RBI single for Crisp. And to remind everyone what Giants games have looked like all month, Andres Torres mishandled the ball in left — it’s not like Torres has the best arm in the world, but Norris is a catcher and he was hitting third as the ball clanged off Torres’ glove.

I’ll just leave this here:

But after a visit from Dave Righetti, Zito got out of the second after only allowing one run.

Third Inning

This is when I joked on Twitter that Zito’s mission was to walk everyone in the A’s lineup. Cespedes walked to lead off the inning, but then Zito caught him leaning and Cespedes was tagged out in a rundown. Crisis averted. Josh Donaldson then became the fifth player to walk against Zito, but he was retired when Nate Freiman grounded into a 5-4-3 double play.

Fourth Inning

Even though Zito has thrown more balls than strikes up to this point, the Giants were still in the game. Then, something really weird happened: he struck out Chris Young and Norris. Adam Rosales hit a grounder to Pablo Sandoval, who couldn’t keep his throw in the air to Brandon Belt and, as a result, was charged with the Giants’ 25th error in the month of May. However, there would be no walk to the pitcher this time, as Zito struck out Griffin on three straight fastballs.

Fifth Inning

Another smash down the line off the bat of Crisp deflects off the glove of a diving Sandoval, limiting the damage by one base. It was Crisp’s third hit of the game, the only hits Zito allowed all afternoon. After Lowrie scared every Giants fan at AT&T Park with a fly ball Torres managed to catch, Cespedes stepped in. After driving one to Section 233 (left field Club Level, below the small circular signs honoring John McGraw and Christy Mathewson), the mighty outfielder drew a walk — Zito’s sixth of the game. Then the former Athletic somehow escaped again, getting Donaldson to ground into a fielder’s choice and Freiman to hit a dinky pop fly to Belt.

Sixth Inning

Zito comes back out with the scoreboard showing his pitch count at at 101: 52 strikes, 49 balls. The A’s continued trying to make Zito work, but Zito had somehow worked into a groove of sorts. Young flied out to Crawford on the seventh pitch of his plate appearance. Zito struck out Norris on six pitches, then got a bit of a break when Rosales grounded out to Crawford on pitch No. 3. Zito walked off the mound to a polite ovation, his day done after 116 pitches.

With the Giants struggling to the degree they have since Angel Pagan’s inside-the-park HR (Pagan himself has struggled since then, getting a cortisone shot yesterday in his strained left hamstring), it only seemed right that they’d have to fight through a lot of crud to make things right again.

The Giants trailed 1-0, but Zito, against all odds, contributed the team’s first quality start since the Nationals were in town. And finally, they were ready to hit. After mustering only one base hit all afternoon, the Giants scored four runs on five of them, started by an infield single by Brett Pill and capped by a line drive double into the left field gap by Belt off lefty Hideki Okajima.

The A’s picked up a run in the seventh to lower the deficit to two runs. Then, almost as if a baton of awful was handed from one dugout to the other, the A’s started making Giant mistakes. Nick Noonan reached on a bunt to Lowrie. Rosales couldn’t find a pop fly off the bat of Gregor Blanco, and later threw the ball into the visiting dugout in a misguided attempt to double up Brandon Crawford. A run scored to push the Giants’ lead to 5-2, and Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo kept things quiet in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.

CONTEST QUESTION

Want a free Large Pizza (any toppings) from Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria? Answer this question in the comments (because what this week told me is that people have VERY strong opinions on these two teams) …

Who will finish the 2013 season with a better record, the Oakland A’s or the San Francisco Giants?

I’ll pick the winner of this contest and Brandon vs. Brandon contest from earlier this week tomorrow. Good luck!