From post-season bystander to starting the World Series opener. That's how far Barry Zito has come in two years to resurrect his career.
The resurgent left-hander will pitch Game 1 for the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers (8:07 p.m. ET).
Manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday he will go with Zito, who has turned around his career this year. His stellar outing in a 5-0 victory on Friday night in Game 5 of the NL championship series at Busch Stadium helped San Francisco rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals to return to the World Series for the second time in three years.
Left off the post-season roster for all three rounds when the Giants won it all in 2010, Zito made a conscious decision to find his way by just plain having fun again — forgetting one bad start and moving on to the next. Whatever he has done to change his mental approach, it has certainly paid off on the mound.
It doesn't hurt he now has four pitches to baffle batters aside from just that nasty curveball that has defined his career back in the early days of the Big Three — with Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder — across the bay with the Oakland Athletics.
"It's hard to sum it up in one answer," Zito said after beating the Cardinals. "It's just a plethora of things that I've done and gone through here with the Giants. But the most important thing was to come out and give everything I've got."
The Giants have won Zito's last 13 starts dating to Aug. 7. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland went 15-8 for his most wins since joining the Giants on a $126 million US, seven-year contract before the 2007 season.
And what ideal timing for Zito to shine in a season that two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum faltered.
"He's been through a lot, obviously. He took the beatings," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said of Zito. "He's always been a stand-up guy, he's never stopped working. In his own way he's never stopped believing and he's made changes. He's made changes when he had to. I actually don't think other than when he first came here that he was supposed to be the lead dog in the staff as it turned out the young guys were so good so fast. You look back in Oakland he was just one of the group. I don't think the money ever bothered him."
Still, when Zito won Game 5 last week, he said how special it was to deliver in his most important start yet of his 13-year big league career.
Zito has been so good he's trending on Twitter with his own hashtag — and, now, (hashtag)RallyZito rolls on to the World Series. Not that he's paying a lot of attention.
"I tried Twitter a couple of years ago and it was a pretty devastating experience for me," Zito said the other day with a laugh. "I learned to not check the inbox. So I got off Twitter. I'm excited that the fans are fired up."
That support sure has meant a lot to Zito, who has always said the right thing even through the down times. Bochy praised his class in handling the 2010 situation. All those boos that came from every which way for so long have turned to cheers and thunderous standing ovations.
"In this game sometimes we forget at times what we're all capable of, and I think those are the times when we struggle a little bit," Zito said.
Zito won his last five regular-season starts and seven decisions of the regular season since a loss Aug. 2 to the Mets.
He has tweaked his delivery, added a cut fastball and learned to make adjustments right away when things go wrong. Working with pitching coach Dave Righetti has helped, too.
"I think Barry really deserves most of the credit along with Dave Righetti, with them working together," Bochy said. "Sometimes in this game you've got to make changes, adjustments, that's what the game is about. And Barry's done that. He's a little different than what he was when he won the Cy Young. Maybe he doesn't have that same velocity. So he's had to I think change his style of pitching a little bit. And he's come up with the cutter. And I think he's pitching down more than he used to."