SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Zito's final start as a Giant ended up being as unfulfilling for the home fans as his infamous $126 million contract.
Twice pulled from the rotation this season, the struggling left-hander was given a surprise start Wednesday after 23 days of inaction in the bullpen, ostensibly to allow Giants fans to say goodbye after seven up and down years. That never truly happened.
Zito cruised through the fifth, giving up two runs -- only one of them earned -- as the Giants beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-4. But when Zito returned to the dugout after the top of the fifth, manager Bruce Bochy pulled him for a pinch-hitter. Zito and Bochy had a short discussion, and Zito could be seen hitting a Gatorade cooler as he walked toward the dugout stairs.
Barring a relief appearance in the season's final four games, Zito's last moment as a Giant will be a light ovation from several hundred fans behind the home dugout who were unaware that Zito's night was done.
For three innings, Zito had done his best to write a fairy-tale ending to a Giants career that never lived up to expectations. He was at his baffling best, mixing speeds, going in and out, up and down, never afraid to fall behind in the count. Yasiel Puig, the first batter to face Zito since Sept. 2, started the night by rolling over on a curveball right down the middle. Two batters later, Matt Kemp flied out gently to right.
Zito didn't allow a base runner or even a hard-hit ball through three and was given a 3-0 lead on Tony Abreu's bases-loaded triple in the second. The Dodgers stormed back in the fourth, coming a couple of feet from tying the game when Kemp lined a shot off the top of the left field wall with two runners on. The Dodgers scored two in the frame, but Pablo Sandoval's two-run blast in the bottom of the inning gave Zito some breathing room.
In the fifth inning, Zito was hit on the thigh by a Nick Punto liner, but he appeared to be unhurt and worked around the infield single. Zito, who had lost eight straight decisions, was charged with one earned run on four hits. No. 75 walked off the mound with a 5.75 ERA in what has been a disappointing season.
On Tuesday, that season took a positive turn. Bochy sent pitching coach Dave Righetti to find Zito and deliver a special bit of news: He would make one more start at AT&T Park.
"He was pumped," Bochy said before Wednesday's game. "He's excited about this start."
So were Zito's rotation mates, particularly Tim Lincecum, who has turned to Zito while dealing with his own ups and downs.
"I can sympathize and emphasize with him because of what I've been through, and seeing him always stick with it and never get discouraged was pretty special," Lincecum said. "Obviously, I have a special relationship with Barry the last couple of years. It's going to be kind of a bittersweet situation to see him pitch this last game."
The Giants will not pick up the $18 million option on Zito's seven-year, $126 million deal, instead paying a $7 million buyout. The contract was panned right away, and Zito entered the night 62-80 in seven seasons with a 4.63 ERA. But that hardly mattered in the Giants' clubhouse on Wednesday, as players said they were looking forward to seeing Zito pitch one last time. That feeling is as much because of the way Zito has handled himself off the field as on.
"There's been a lot of stuff he could have complained about, and I've never heard him say a negative word about anything," said Madison Bumgarner, who has the locker next to Zito's. "He's a lot tougher than people realize. He's a gentleman in the game, and a competitor."
Asked for his favorite Zito memories, Bochy said he remembers telling Zito that he would be left off the 2010 postseason roster, only to hear that the left-hander threw a bullpen session the next day.
"He wanted to keep himself ready," Bochy said, smiling.
Zito stayed ready last season, too, pitching 7?2/3 scoreless innings in St. Louis to keep the Giants alive in the NLCS. He gave up one run over 5?2/3 innings five days later, taking the win in Game 1 of the World Series.
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