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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.

Afterward, Buster Posey said, "He seemed like he always seemed.

"You lose a family member, especially a parent. I can't imagine what he has gone through. He had his routine. He stuck to it. He gave us a great performance."

Zito sat on his stool in front of his locker after the game. He had showered and he wore jeans and a T-shirt, and he was checking text messages. When the media came over, he stood up.

One reporter asked how he was doing.

"I'm doing all right," Zito said. "I went out there today, was able to keep my stuff down for the most part."

Someone asked if it was hard to pitch given the circumstances.

"I just want to stay on turn and help the ballclub."

Someone asked why he pitched well.

"I just try to minimize distraction and take the mound regardless of what it is. Some things are a little heavier than others. Today, I was able to go out there and still focus and give the team a chance to win."

I asked if he thought of his father as he pitched.

"I don't really want to answer too many questions about that stuff. We can talk about the ballgame."

Zito is entitled to be private. He is a private man who generously talks baseball but leaves his personal life, personal thoughts out of the equation. It's who he is.

That brings us to Will Clark, the Giants' ambassador. He explained Zito, one ballplayer helping lay people understand another ballplayer under duress.

"Some guys get caught up in that moment and they can't focus," Clark said.

"Other people can sort of separate things. Barry's got a lot going on in his life, needless to say, and yet to show you how great of an athlete he is, he could turn that off for three or four hours and focus on what he needs to do on the field."

"Are you saying he's a professional?" I asked.

"Exactly," Clark said.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.