Shadow Barry Zito Gives Giants Series Win, Commanding Division Lead

The only thing that could make this picture better would be a reference to chocolate, and ... oh, never mind. We're good.

The secret word for yesterday was "frustrating." This was frustrating, that was frustrating. Every time you said it, confetti shot from the ceiling, and people started screaming.

Today's secret word: deflating. For them. It's impossible to express the right amount of tittering that causes. Full-body tittering convulsions. It would be almost impossible to make that game more deflating for Dodgers fans. Like, maybe if every living Dodgers fan saw some sort of spectral apparition of Buster Posey cuckolding them. Then it would be more deflating. But that's physically impossible. I mean, probably. I don't want to sell Posey short. But that's the only way it could have been more deflating.

Because you've been there before. You've done the mental calisthenics of a fan whose team is facing long odds. After Saturday's win, Dodgers fans could get, if not optimistic, a little open-minded. Kershaw v. Zito was a clear win, so they'd be 3.5 back with 21 to go. Not a big deal. If they went 15-6 and the Giants went 12-10 over the last month, they could tie. Not that likely, but not that unlikely. Or they could go 13-8, and the Giants could go 10-12. There were options. All they needed was Kershaw to win, and …

No Kershaw.

Joe Blanton.

That's like going on a date with someone you met on the Internet, expecting the picture you saw in his or her profile, and meeting someone … well, someone who looked like Joe Blanton. He fits in all sorts of disappointing scenarios, really.

To be fair, Blanton didn't pitch poorly, especially considering that he threw 30 pitches in a two-run first. But he wasn't Clayton Kershaw. And as soon as Kershaw wasn't the starting pitcher: deflated. All of those best-case scenarios now had an added difficulty that they weren't expecting.

And then Barry Zito showed up with his best curveball. So deflating. Watching the cavalcade of newly acquired juggernauts flail against Barry Zito … deflating. Literally, "of the flating." The crowd response to Zito early on prompted Buster Olney to tweet thusly:

First response: Hahaha.

Second response: No, it really is telling that after six years that Barry Zito can still get a standing ovation.

I'm not entirely sure what that means. But I'd like to project my personal, biased beliefs on it. Right now, we're in a Golden Age of Giants baseball. It's the perfect equilibrium right now. If the success continues, we'll get arrogant and entitled. More so. And when that happens, there's no way a guy like Zito gets leeway. Big contract, big expectations -- if he doesn't immediately live up to expectations, he's roasted alive, just like in the other places where baseball is a religion, and the fans are irrationally rabid.

Right now, though? Still in the afterglow of 2010, still managing our expectations for the future. And lil' ol' Zito keeps plugging along, adding value every now and again. He gets slack. And when he pitches like that, you can see why. For every blown-out-before-the-third-inning start, there's one of these. And in the middle, there are the six-inning/four-run outings that make up his typical setlist.

Deflating. The Dodgers thought they were going to see Clayton Kershaw pitching against Barry Zito, and instead they saw Barry Zito pitching like Clayton Kershaw. The Giants took three games off the schedule and moved a game up in the standings. The Dodgers still have to play the Cardinals, Reds, and Nationals. It's not time to put the champagne on ice. It's not even time to buy some champagne.

It's probably time to feel a little smug and self-satisfied, though. Wheeeeeeeee. That was fun.

Star-divide

Quick hits on the rest of the good things in the universe tonight:

* Brandon Belt worked a brilliant walk in the first. It was an 11-pitch at-bat with a runner in scoring position. In June, he would have struck out on two pitches. There's no better way to explain the transformation of Belt than with that at-bat. He fouled off tough pitches, he had good swings on bad pitches that he just missed, and he come out the other side with a positive result.

* Angel Pagan is just a triple away from the all-time San Francisco record for a single season. That was just a piece of trivia until I saw who jointly held the record. Willie Mays and ... Steve Finley?!? What sort of hellfire-tempered tie is that? Those two names should never be in the same sentence unless the sentence is, "Steve Finley exploded on Friday, apparently after shaking hands with Willie Mays. Physicists are investigating the incident ..."

So root for Pagan to break the record.

* Is Marco Scutaro the best runner-on-third, one-out hitter you can imagine right now? He's in the middle of a good stretch, so, sure. Maybe he's not really this good. But when he came up with a runner on third and one out in the fifth, I added the run to the Giants' ledger immediately. I'm not saying the Giants should sign him to a six-year deal, but five years would be swell. Okay, seven. I'm a sucker.

* Hunter Pence got guff yesterday. He deserves praise today. A two-out, run-scoring hit to pick up Buster Posey, who failed in the previous at-bat? That was big. That was really big. I made a typo on that last sentence, and my autocorrect changed the typo to "bug." That means something. But tonight, the focus is just on Pence having a whale of an at-bat in the first inning of the most important game of his Giants' career.

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