Zito vs. Hudson reminds everyone that baseball is very hard

Barry Zito

Barry Zito had already allowed four runs, and was pulled after walking Buster Posey to start the third inning. Tim Hudson was removed from the game after hitting two A’s, walking three, and throwing 21 balls out of 26 pitches in the second. Hudson’s delivery — or health, who knows — was so out of sorts that Bruce Bochy yanked him in the middle of Josh Reddick’s at-bat with a 2-0 count.

Hudson received a loud standing ovation from a full house* at the Coliseum, as everyone wondered aloud whether anyone could’ve possibly predicted that Zito would outlast his former “Big Three” teammate on this afternoon. Zito lasted only a few minutes longer, and heard the same loud cheers. Zito looked at peace with what transpired — he’s probably gotten used to giving up a bunch of hits and walks. Hudson didn’t give the fans the curtain call they desired, as he looked close to tears in the dugout after it all fell apart in his final inning at the stadium he once called home.

tim hudsonIn all, no harm was done. The Bay Area is sentimental about all things sports — people mourned the loss of Candlestick Park this year as if it was Tiger Stadium — and everyone got the chance to say goodbye to two prominent athletes who didn’t just play in the region, but clearly enjoyed playing and living here. Zito, thanks a desperate offer from the Giants, who were trying to give the fans something to get excited to make it easier to kick Barry Bonds to the curb, stuck around for seven more years after his brilliant A’s tenure. Hudson went back to his home state of Georgia after a great run with the A’s, but he finished his career with the Giants.

They both represent different factions of the Bay, and not just A’s and Giants fans. Zito brings the new-agey, crunch flakiness of Marin County and certain neighborhoods of San Francisco. Hudson is all East Bay — a hard working pragmatic type who’d be at home in the outer reaches of the Bay, like the Tri-Valley area or somewhere like Antioch or Auburn.

These are silly stereotypes, of course. Zito is very L.A. and apparently made some contacts during his time in Nashville (a country music career is probably on the horizon, knowing Zito as we do), while Hudson lived in Cow Hollow last year (I’m not sure about this season, but the Bumgarners moved in with the Hudsons last October).

It was a day about fan sentiment, and the cruel, failure-rich sport of baseball showed none in return. Zito gave up a lot of loud contact in the first inning, as Marlon Byrd sat on his curveball and barely missed hitting a three-run homer. Jarrett Parker hit an 85-mph Zito “fastball” the other way for a home run that just cleared the left field wall, less than 24 hours after crushing a 474-foot homer that got everyone talking. Hudson was solid in the first inning, to the point where it looked as if he might come close to matching his performance from Sunday against the D-Backs. Then Hudson started hurling pitches with the accuracy of Steve Sax or Chuck Knoblauch making throws from second base to first.

Mostly, this game turned out how most expected for Zito, while Hudson might have ended his great career with one of the worst innings of his career. This was a melancholy day for A’s fans, who saw these pitchers at their best but never saw them win rings while wearing green and gold. In a perfect world, Oakland would’ve kept Zito, Hudson and Mark Mulder together, along with Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada. A’s fans get so few opportunities to celebrate those outstanding teams from the early-2000s, so today was worthwhile for that alone. Then Athletics backers got an extra bonus, scoring five runs in the third inning to take an 8-4 lead.

Yes, I’m writing this before the game is even halfway over. Partly, it’s due to impatience. This game, like most Giants games this month, is progressing very slowly. Also, the A’s have the worst record in the AL and the Giants have a good shot at getting eliminated from postseason contention today. The stage was perfectly set for a day of nostalgia, and while neither pitcher cooperated by producing one of their better efforts, the game brought closure to an era that lasted well longer than most pitchers do.

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