Giants defy history, turn to Barry Zito for necessary win

So, yeah: Barry Zito.

It wasn't supposed to come to this, was it? When the 2012 season began, Barry Zito was the Giants' No. 5 starter, but his job was secure because -- with the departure of Jonathan Sanchez in a brilliant trade -- the club just didn't have anyone else. In the pecking order, though, it went something like Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong ... three hundred crickets playing three hundred tiny violins ... and Barry Zito. That's what happens when you go 3-4 the previous season, and haven't had a winning record since 2006.

Something funny happened on the way to Obscurity, though: Barry Zito went 15-8, just missing a tie for the team lead in victories. At the same time, Lincecum was suffering through the worst season of his career (by a lot). What's more, Zito got lucky hot at just the right time. From the 7th of August through the end of the season, Zito started 11 games and the Giants won all 11 of them; in that stretch, his ERA was a non-thrilling 3.92, but his other numbers were quite good, with plenty of strikeouts and few walks or home runs.

For those 11 starts, Zito seemed worth his $19 million salary.

For the whole season, though? Zito's 2012 performance mirrored almost exactly what he'd done in his previous five seasons as a Giant. Except you might argue it was even worse, since AT&T Park seems to have been exceptionally pitcher-friendly this year. Zito's 4.15 ERA seems perfectly decent, but his 84 ERA+ was actually the worst of his career.

So, there's that. If you buy into park effects, you have to conclude that Zito was essentially a replacement-level National League starting pitcher. And you wouldn't give a replacement-level starting pitcher much of a shot against the St. Louis Cardinals, who basically eviscerated left-handed pitchers this season.

You want hope, Giants fans?

I'm sorry. I don't really have anything for you. But as Giants fans remember too well, Zito has started two huge games for the club during his tenure, and both outings ended disastrously.

Two years ago, on the last Saturday of the regular season, Zito drew a start against the Padres. A win for the Giants would have clinched the National League West title. A loss would leave the Giants needing to win on Sunday.

Zito lasted three-plus innings; Bruce Bochy pulled him when Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer led off the fourth inning with a walk, the fourth Zito issued. The Giants went on to lose the game, but did clinch the next day. Of course, they also went on to win their first World Championship since moving to San Francisco. Zito didn't pitch a single inning during the Giants' postseason run.

Last week, Zito started against the Reds in the fourth game of their Division Series. A loss would eliminate the Giants.

This time, Zito didn't survive the third inning; Bochy pulled him after he issued his fourth walk. Of course, the Giants would come back to win that game, and the series.

And here were are again, the Giants needing to win and Barry Zito pressed into service, this time because it's been roughly two months since Madison Bumgarner has done anything to inspire real confidence in his manager or anyone else associated with the Giants; in Bumgarner's two postseason starts, he's given up a ton of hits, including two home runs.

Bruce Bochy was faced with a true dilemma. He had to pick one of the horns. No it's probably just a question of how badly he's gored.

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