Giant leap: Zito's resurgence in '12 key to title
After playing critical role in playoffs, veteran southpaw getting back to work
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Amid the euphoria in the visitors' clubhouse at Comerica Park after the Giants completed their four-game World Series sweep of Detroit last Oct. 28, Barry Zito briefly allowed his mind to wander.
Zito recalled a December 2006 meeting at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, where he and his agent, Scott Boras, sat at a table with the men who ran the Giants -- Peter Magowan and Larry Baer -- who then occupied the top two rungs in the club's hierarchy -- as well as general manager Brian Sabean and newly-hired manager Bruce Bochy.
They told Zito that they were bent on winning a championship. They signed the left-hander, that offseason's premier free-agent pitcher, to a seven-year, $126 million contract to help the Giants achieve that goal.
"That was one of the first things that flashed through my head after we won the World Series," Zito said Thursday. "I was able to contribute to that. Obviously, that was also one of the first things that flashed through my head when I knew I wasn't going to be contributing in 2010. It was very fulfilling for me to be able to deliver that aspect of why they brought me over here."
Zito definitely delivered. He finished 15-8, his first winning record as a Giant, after compiling a 43-61 mark in his first five seasons with San Francisco. Zito continued to buoy the Giants in the postseason. He pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at St. Louis -- the fourth of San Francisco's six consecutive elimination-game victories -- before beating Detroit ace Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the World Series.
October has turned to February, but Zito, 34, remains bathed in optimism.
His NLCS victory is widely hailed as the postseason's turning point for the Giants, easing the sting of 2010, when he was left off the postseason roster.
Instead of attempting to make drastic changes in his pitching mechanics -- as he did in previous springs -- Zito is merely fine-tuning his form.
"It's not about making a lot of big adjustments," the left-hander said. "It's making small adjustments, which is what we do throughout the course of the season."
Bochy speaks of Zito with calm assurance instead of concern, which Zito prompted last spring when he recorded a 7.91 ERA, allowed 32 hits and walked 12 in 19 1/3 exhibition innings.
"He looks good," Bochy said after watching Zito throw Thursday off a bullpen mound. "It was evident that he put in a lot of work in the offseason."
Zito cleared himself a path of success last year. The Giants won his final 14 starts, including 11 in the regular season and three in the postseason. He personally went 9-0 in those outings.
"I was able to feel repeatable in my delivery most of the year," Zito said. "That's what I'm going for."
Some observers might suggest that Zito's struggles in 2010 prompted his turnaround. He finished 9-14, marking the first time in 10 full seasons that he did not win at least 10 games. Zito endured injuries in 2011 and the Giants missed the postseason, so 2012 represented his first opportunity for atonement.
Though Zito denied that 2010 drove him to excel last year, he indicated that the adversity he experienced gnawed at his pride.
"I'm not going to say that fueled me, because I just don't operate under that kind of paradigm of proving everyone wrong," Zito said. "That's just not my personality. I'd rather just do it for the fulfillment -- personally and for the team. But that was a huge part of it."
Zito's motivation ultimately brought him and the Giants to baseball's pinnacle and awakened his memory of meeting the Giants' brass. A Major League Baseball staffer interrupted his reverie to bring him to an interview room. As he was led away, Zito heard something he couldn't quite believe: After Bochy brought the World Series trophy to the clubhouse, Giants players spontaneously began chanting the name of one of their brethren who did so much to ensure their triumph:
Bar-ry! Bar-ry! Bar-ry! Zito called that moment "very surreal."
"I know it sounded like my name, but I didn't know why," he said.
The adversity Zito overcame and the opponents he vanquished gave teammates plenty of reason to celebrate him.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.