Giants starter Barry Zito works against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 4 of… (Mark Lyons / EPA )
ST. LOUIS -- It was the last game Barry Zito would win for the Oakland Athletics.
The date was Oct. 3, 2006, as the A’s opened an Americal League division series in the Metrodome, against the Minnesota Twins and Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.
“I just remember how loud it was,” Zito said Thursday. “It was really, really loud there. And it was fun.”
Zito was the A’s ace, the winner of his own Cy Young Award four years earlier. He stopped the Twins cold, giving up one run over eight innings and launching the A’s toward a sweep.
He also started Game 1 of the ALCS, but he did not survive the fourth inning. He lost, launching the Detroit Tigers to a sweep.
The A’s bid farewell to Zito, and the San Francisco Giants swooped in to sign him for $126 million, at the time the largest contract ever for a pitcher.
Zito has not won a postseason game since leaving the A's. In 2010, the Giants won the World Series, but they omitted Zito from the postseason roster.
The Giants tried him in this year’s National League division series, but he did not survive the third inning. Still, with Madison Bumgarner fading and fatigued, the Giants will try Zito again on Friday evening in Game 5 of the NLCS, facing elimination against the St. Louis Cardinals in the best-of-seven series.
This has not been fun. Zito lost his velocity almost from the moment he signed with the Giants. His signature curve lost much of its effectiveness since the difference in velocity from his fastball narrowed so much that hitters could guess curve and still catch up to the fastball.
He had to slow down his curve, to regain the confidence to throw a strike no matter how far it might be hit, to learn how to be a crafty left-hander -- all on the job, and all with constant references to his contract.
On Thursday, Zito offered a startingly reasonable assessment of his current ability.
“I’m capable of throwing all my pitches for strikes and keeping guys off balance,” he said.
He made all his starts this season. He ate up his innings. He went 15-8 with a 4.15 earned-run average, the first time in his six seasons in San Francisco that he posted a winning record.
The Giants won his final 11 regular-season starts. They really need this one.
“He’s had a good year for us,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s won some big games. His command, his overall stuff, has been really good and consistent this year. So I am very comfortable.”
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