SAN FRANCISCO — A half hour before Saturday's game against the Marlins, Barry Zito was getting ready for a day's work.
He stood on the grass in left field and short-tossed with Buster Posey who stood at the foul line. As Zito limbered his arm, he moved deep into center field and after a while he was throwing the ball 200 feet to Posey.
He was a man getting ready for his job. There's nothing unusual in that. It's just that his father, Joe, had died a few days earlier in Van Nuys. Zito had left the team on Wednesday and traveled to Van Nuys and returned to the team on Thursday. He received the condolences of his teammates and he took his regular bullpen session.
After making the long throws to Posey, Zito began walking toward his catcher. The throws became shorter and faster. Then Posey crouched at the foul line and Zito went into his motion and they got serious. And then they walked to the bullpen for the final preparation.
You never could tell Zito was a man experiencing life grief. He took his turn when it was his turn. No one would have complained if he stayed away. But he told Bruce Bochy, "Hey, I'm not going to change my routine."
Zito is a man who performs his duty in the way he defines duty. He faces up. After he pitches, even when he pitches badly, he always is there promptly in front of his locker when the media arrive. He talks. He answers hard questions. Not all are like that. He exudes a sense of right and wrong, and you must assume he got this from mom Roberta, also deceased, and from Joe.
And there's something else. Joe Zito helped Barry become a pitcher. Joe understood early his son was a pitching prodigy and he built a mound in their backyard and hired Cy Young winner Randy Jones, a lefty like Barry, to teach his son. So, pitching for Zito is tied up with his father.
Think about fathers and sons. When the relationship is good — and this one seemed good — a dialogue persists. Fathers and sons talk — so do fathers and daughters and moms and sons and moms and daughters. When the parent dies, the dialogue continues. You may know that from your own experience.
A son can feel his deceased father inside him, talking, guiding, encouraging. It would be nice to think Joe was in his son's mind when Barry somberly took the mound at 1 p.m. It would be nice to feel Barry pitched for his dad and with his dad, and the pitching prolonged their relationship. And it almost surely did.
Just before the game started someone in the Giants organization said to me, "I hope Barry has a good game."
It would have been tough — awful — for Zito to pitch badly considering the backdrop to the game. But he is a good pitcher at home and, although he threw many pitches, he gave up only one run in seven innings and the Giants won in extra innings. He came to work on a bright Saturday and he did his work, nothing more, nothing less.
Bochy watched Zito during the game and saw nothing different in his pitcher's effort or his demeanor, although he looked carefully. Zito was a pitcher pitching.