To finally spear these bargain basement Miami Marlins, it took a sliding catch by Hunter Pence. Then an infield single, a sacrifice bunt and another infield single. That led to an intentional walk to load the bases and bring up Hector Sanchez, who lifted a fly ball down the line that fell in that fortuitous section of sod just out of reach of the left fielder, third baseman and shortstop. Finally, the losing streak at home to this otherwise downtrodden team from South Florida was over, and it was dogpiling time.
“That’s one of those exhausting games, a much-needed win for the guys,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You saw them going down the line in that last inning, they were doing all they could to beat those balls out. We got a break, got a blooper to fall in. It’s good for these guys, because they’re fighting.”
The Giants didn’t come close to playing a perfect game, but their concentration seemed to pick up as the game went on. Then again, the bar started pretty low. Gregor Blanco ran them out of a pretty promising first inning, and Juan Perez was picked off first in the second. But even with Blanco’s mistake, he was one of the most valuable players during this “much-needed” victory. He even drove in the true star of the afternoon …
It was impossible to take your eyes off Zito, but that didn’t mean it was particularly easy to watch him. It’s trite to say that the memory of his father, a man he loved who he’ll never speak with again, rested on a regular season game against the Marlins. The only thing one can surmise without a doubt is this: we watched a human being perform a very difficult task on the mound on Saturday afternoon.
“Barry’s the ultimate professional. But when you lose a family member, especially a parent, I can’t imagine what he was going through,” Buster Posey said.
Losing one’s father is something most people go through at some point in their lives; some reading this have probably experienced what it’s like. Thankfully I haven’t so I don’t know what it’s like — when I heard the news of Joe Zito’s passing I assumed Barry would need to take some time away from the team.
On the contrary, Zito was a visible presence over the last two days on the field before games. He was one of the only men on the field a few hours before first pitch on Thursday, about an hour after statements from Barry and the Giants about Joe’s passing made the rounds, stretching next to the cage and staring out beyond the scoreboard in center field. Later in the afternoon he shagged balls by himself in the outfield, making backhanded plays on lazy tailing liners and lobbing balls toward the bucket next to the protective screen behind second base.
Nothing out of the ordinary for Zito on that afternoon, because he wanted to keep his routine. And staying on schedule meant taking the ball on Saturday afternoon.
“I just wanted to stay on turn and help the ballclub as much as I can. It was good to be able to go out there and throw,” Zito said.
He accomplished far more than that. Zito gave up a home run to Ed Lucas in the first inning on a curveball that got a little too much of the plate, but that’s all he would surrender. He threw 64 pitches in the first three innings, with too many pitches that were up and a lot of three-ball counts. But something clicked, and Zito completed innings four-through-seven with just 48 pitches.
“He made a great adjustment,” Bochy said. “He’s a tough competitor, and he regrouped and gave us a great effort. That’s what starters do, good starters.”
“I’m alright,” responded Zito when asked about how he’s holding up, but that was about it when it came to public introspection. He didn’t want to dwell on his father after the game — at least not in front of the media — and (understandably) wasn’t interested in playing along when a columnist asked him, “Was there any sense that you did any of this today for your dad?”
It’s none of our business, and that’s what made his outing both great theater and a little uncomfortable. Zito made it easier on everyone watching by pitching well, but this isn’t comparable to saving the Giants in Game 5 of the NLCS. Zito spent most of Thursday afternoon by himself on the outfield grass, keeping occupied with the beautiful tedium of pregame baseball activities. Many people believe you should surround yourself with others during the grieving process, and Zito may spend time with his family when the Giants head down to Southern California after tomorrow’s game. Today, contributing to the team he’s been a part of for seven years was the goal he both set and achieved.
“I just try to minimize distraction, don’t take it to the mound, regardless of what it is,” Zito said. “Some things are heavier than others, but today I was able to go out there and stay focused and give the team a chance to win.”
— More Bochy on Zito: “There’s nothing tougher than what he had to go through. To go out there with that focus, that’s impressive.”
— The bullpen has been overused and scrutinized at the same time lately, but Sergio Romo and Sandy Rosario kept the team afloat with identical pitching lines: 1.2 innings, 1 hit allowed, three strikeouts, no runs.
“(Rosario) saved us with that job he did. He got in some jams, kept his poise, made some great pitches. Two tremendous outings for him. He’s done a real, real nice job,” Bochy said.
— I happened to be standing in the press box when Romo was facing Mike Stanton, and I positioned myself on a line directly behind Romo and Stanton. And here’s what I have to report from this experience: wow, Romo’s slider. Its movement is clear on TV and most everywhere in the ballpark, but from behind the plate his premier pitch looks especially hellacious, clearly darting away from a right-handed hitter. If someone asked me if I wanted the chance to hit Romo, just once … I’d say no. Not worth even trying.
— The Giants haven’t made an official decision on whether Angel Pagan will have surgery to repair his hamstring/knee injury, but it appears very likely. Luckily, Blanco (who I picked up on one of my fantasy teams before today’s game, believe it or not … not that anybody cares) has played like a starting-quality Major League outfielder, one who’ll probably hold onto the leadoff role for as long as Pagan sits.
“He brings so much energy to the club, that’s what you love about him. He goes all out every play,” Bochy said. “He made a mistake early in the game but he’s a pro, he didn’t let that bother him.”
— Bochy told me that Zito made a “great adjustment” and had better luck keeping the ball down as the game went on. I asked Zito about any specific adjustments that were made in-game, and he said, “I just tried to keep my focus on every pitch, individually. I got to tip my hat to the second hitter, dropping some head on a curve ball. I just wanted every pitch one at a time, and not get ahead of myself. I was able to do that.”
— Another fan interfered with a ball in play today. This time it was on Blanco’s deep fly ball to triples alley that bounced up and was hauled in by a front row patron in the arcade. The Marlins were upset that Zito was allowed to score from first by the umpires, and Bochy was upset because he thought Blanco could’ve had an inside-the-park home run if the ball wasn’t touched.
“The ball hit off the wall and then went up, and it was not going to go out of play until the fan reached over and caught it. That’s fan interference. It’s our judgment where the runners would have gone if the fan had not touched the ball,” said first base umpire Mark Wegner.
I’m starting to believe it doesn’t matter what we say — fans are always going to go after balls in play here at AT&T Park. Hopefully the NL West title isn’t decided by some idiot sticking his or her hands out onto the field in hopes of getting a souvenir.
— The Giants’ winless streak at home against Miami is over, but their homerless streak has reached 86 innings.
“I did mention that to Bam-Bam during the game, ‘It’s okay if we hit a home run occasionally,'” Bochy said. “We’re a team that tries to keep the line moving. The home runs are nice, but we know that’s not our strength. They’ll come, but we’re in a bit of a rut right now.”
— One of the players who’s most likely to end the team’s home run drought went 0-for-4 today, but here’s the catch that kept the score tied in the top of the 11th:
“I was playing Polanco a little shallow, a little over,” Pence said. “He’s really good at hitting those soft liners that way. He’s made a living off of that for a long time. Really good hitter, fortunately I was able to get there.”