SAN FRANCISCO -- Change Barry Zito's name to Barry Zero.
Zero has a good ring to it and it's appropriate because Zito/Zero has given up, get this, no runs in two starts this season, as in zero, as in 0.00 earned run average. As in zilch.
Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum wish they could change their names to Zero. But they can't.
Here are a few more numbers, and I promise not to make this a numbers-oriented column. The Giants, who beat the Colorado Rockies 10-0 on Wednesday, have won the previous 16 times Zito has started, going back to last season. That includes three postseason starts. The Giants' 16 in a row behind Zito ties their team record for 16 straight wins behind a starter, the co-record-holder being none other than the legendary Carl Hubbell, who did it in 1936, which means you might have missed it.
The Giants and the Elias Sports Bureau can't say if any Giants pitcher prior to 1920 led the team to 16 or more wins. Maybe they didn't keep records then. But it doesn't matter. What I'm saying here is simple — Barry Zito is very good.
And that's amazing. Not just because he was a bust — when he was a bust. It's also how he looks when he pitches.
I sit in the press box directly behind home plate at AT&T Park, and I see his fat, lovely, inviting pitches wandering/floating/making their way toward the plate, and I'm thinking — silly me — "I could whack those balls." Zito's pitches, with all due respect, look like what you face in the slow-pitch area at the local batting cage. Pitchers in high school routinely throw harder than Zito.
And yet, there were the Rockies — a formidable group of hitters — looking like a bunch of stooges.
It's not like Zito had it easy with them. He got into trouble in the fifth and sixth innings and gutted it out. Take what happened in the fifth. He had runners at first and second with one out. In the past, he would have cracked up and surrendered a double or a homer, or both. He simply would have surrendered.
Not this time. Eric Young came up with two on and one out, and Zito slowed down the game, almost made it stop. He did that thing you've seen before — he bent over at the waist and stared at Buster Posey for the sign. And then he stared some more.
While he stared, he dangled his left arm like a man trying to increase blood flow to avoid frostbite and he wiggled the hand. The wiggle is apparently important. He got Young to line out to right. Up came Josh Rutledge who hit into a force play. Inning over.
Here's one reason Zito is better than he used to be. He gets people out in the strike zone.
That's key. He used to nibble around the strike zone afraid to throw it in there. Call him a chronic nibbler. He must have gone to Nibblers Anonymous because he nibbles no more. He pounds the zone, although "pounds" is too strong for his soft pitches.
Let's apply some adjectives to Zito: crafty, cunning, smart. But those are so obvious. There are others, maybe more appropriate: devastating and dominating. That's right, devastating and dominating. It's hard to imagine Zito as dominating, but he dominated the Rockies. Just ask them.
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