SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Zito is playing his part in this World Series, all right.
After years of being labeled baseball’s most overpaid pitcher, Zito took the ball Wednesday night and thoroughly outshined reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to lead San Francisco to an 8-3 victory over Detroit that sent the orange-crazed home fans into a Zito-fueled frenzy.
Of course, three home runs from Pablo Sandoval didn’t hurt either.
The left-hander watched his teammates clinch the World Series title two years ago in Texas, never playing a part on the field that postseason. That was all the motivation he needed to revive his career in his early 30s.
Now, he has the Giants one win closer to another championship after a dazzling World Series debut. The left-hander has just about earned his $126 million contract in a sensational span of six days. A hefty chunk of it, anyway.
Last Friday night at Busch Stadium, Zito pitched a season-saving 5-0 victory against St. Louis and sent the Giants home trailing the defending champion Cardinals, 3-2 – and they rallied again to reach a second World Series in three years.
For anyone who doubted Zito could deliver on the big October stage, while facing the daunting task of dueling with Verlander, he didn’t flinch once. And when two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum came out of the bullpen to replace him in the sixth, Zito ran off to a roaring standing ovation and offered a quick tip of his cap.
During his 2012 transformation back to reliable starter, the 33-year-old Zito never wanted the focus to be on him or how he’s accomplished this remarkable comeback but rather what he could add to make the Giants a winner and playoff contender again. And, possibly, win another World Series ring along the way.
Nobody is questioning Zito’s talents now. His line of one run on six hits, three strikeouts and a walk in 52/3 innings was hardly spectacular – but it rarely is. Zito is doing just what manager Bruce Bochy asks of him: giving the Giants a chance to win.
Zito even added an RBI single in the fourth, following up his bunt base hit in Friday’s win, as Giants starting pitchers drove in a run for the fourth straight game.
The Giants have won Zito’s last 14 starts, and he hasn’t lost since Aug. 2 against the Mets. Zito went 15-8 this season for his most victories since joining the Giants.
In front of a sellout crowd at AT&T Park on this night, who could have seen this memorable World Series moment coming for Zito, only two years after all the boos, from every direction, in his home ballpark?