In the 8th inning of the Giants’ 5-2 win over the Atlanta Braves, Barry Zito came to the plate before a raucous standing ovation. Brandon Crawford took his lead at first base as Zito stepped into the box when suddenly the sellout AT&T Park crowd started chanting a name that I haven’t heard them chant in a long time:

“BAR-RY! BAR-RY! BAR-RY!”

This wasn’t a tepid chant, either. You know those – they pick up steam off the rusted vocal chords of one drunken fan in the outfield bleachers, but never reach beyond a 10-row radius. Nope, this one was loud, spanning the entire stadium. Zito was pitching the Giants into a 3-game lead in the NL West, and the fans got right behind him.

Here we go again…

I’ve written about Zito more than I’d care to admit this season, so it seems only appropriate that my first night covering a Giants game in the press box would be a Zito start like this Thursday’s (completely unplanned, I swear). It’s not that I don’t want to write about Zito; I just I don’t want to keep teetering on that delicate edge that comes along with taking a stance on a player. When they win, I’m pumping my chest out and lauding them for making me look good; when they lose, I’m backtracking on my stance or even (GASP!) admitting that I’m wrong.

Last night, Zito stole the show

Zito’s stat line for the night was impressive: 8 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. He ran his pitch count all the way up to 113 (about 43 pitches more than I thought he would throw based on his first few innings). Zito seemed to be pitching on the edge of collapse several times tonight, starting with the first inning.

He walked his first batter, Michael Bourn, on four pitches. Normally that would mean certain implosion for the lefty, but a 1-3 put out, a strikeout and a fantastic pick from Pablo Sandoval got Zito out of the inning unscathed. He led off the second inning giving up back-to-back singles to Dan Uggla and Brian McCann, and yet he still managed to escape without giving up a run. The Braves made loud contact on Zito for the entire game, hitting balls hard down both foul lines and into gaps in the outfield.  It didn’t matter, as every ball seemed to find its way to the defense. That was the theme of the night, and more often than not, it’s been the theme of Zito’s season.

His outing was spoiled by two consecutive hits in the 9th inning that got him pulled just short of a complete game. Jeremy Affeldt came in for relief but immediately gave up a double that drove in Zito’s runs. Ultimately, it was Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo who would close out the game, secure the win and move the Giants to 15 games over .500.

Both the fans and his teammates rallied around Zito tonight as he rose to the occasion. Whether he’ll be able to repeat a performance like it is a great question; consistency isn’t really a part of his repertoire. But a few more games like this would certainly do the Giants good as they make their final run for October baseball.

Zito’s postgame comments (you may need to turn up the sound, as well as try and ignore the sounds of the clubhouse attendants banging dirt out of the players’ spikes):