There was a temptation to consider these final games meaningless, and I succumbed to that temptation. The division was locked up. There was no home-field advantage at stake. There wasn't a chance for 100 wins, or some other ridiculous thing. And the opponent was the same stupid divisional opponent that we've seen 44 times this year.
Then the games started.
It was just as easy to be annoyed with a double play, or giddy with a two-run homer. It's much nicer to win. It meant something to win. It's calming to win. It's more relaxing to go into the playoffs without thinking, "Damn, how did this team get here?" No, they're 25-10 over their last 35 games. They might not be this good, but they're quite good.
The Giants won 7-3, and they did it with Barry Zito trolling us.
Because this is the same Barry Zito. It has to be. Pitchers don't just reinvent themselves after six years on the job. Well, they do, but it's usually in the other direction. Zito reinvented himself in a way before he even joined the Giants. But they rarely reinvent themselves in the other direction. Not when they're 34.
Except, again, his curveball is biting more. Compare Thursday's start to a random one from 2011. There's more vertical break and less horizontal break -- it's a curve without as much sweep. Apparently, it's working for him.
Yet you were still ready to start in with the lol zitos when he gave the leadoff triple. Our trust in him has been abused and regenerated and abused and regenerated; I'm not sure … I'm not sure I can trust again. And I still don't. He still walked three today. I still get nervous when he has to face a pitcher with the bases loaded because a) maybe he won't be able to throw a strike, or b) this is probably the best chance the pitcher has to get a hit this month, and he knows it.
This is the same Barry Zito. Fred's going to pull the mask off him down at the wharf, and Velma's going to explain how it was Barry Zito all along. There's no other explanation. This was a three-run, three-walk, six-inning Zito start. That's, like, exactly his career line in San Francisco -- he had a 4.50 ERA and a 4.5 BB/9 today, and he has a 4.48 ERA and a 4.0 BB/9 career line since signing with the Giants.
The reason no one notices is the Giants can score like a normal team now.
There probably isn't anything that'd make me feel comfortable with Zito starting in the playoffs. Five more miles per hour and Bumgarnerian control, maybe. But it's coming. Unless he looks like Rick Ankiel in 2000 with his next start, I'd be stunned if Zito wasn't in the postseason rotation. The organization loves its recent history. And the recent history of Barry Zito is pretty impressive, even if it's basically the same damned thing.
Now don't screw it up, you crazy bastard.
oh man if i'm this nervous now, what's gonna happen when the playoffs actually staaaaart
If Zito does pitch well in the playoffs, though, that'd be a heckuva story. It's amazing that he's been around for six seasons already. What if, in the sixth season, he actually, you know ...
Someone's going to go off in the playoffs. Cody Ross did it. David Freese did it. There's going to be a player for one of the eight teams that goes goofy, spraying hits and more hits at an ungodly pace. You don't know who. Don't pretend like you know. Pick a player. Uhhh, let's see, uhhhh, Matt Wieters. Why? Absolutely no reason.
But I'd like to think it'll be Hunter Pence. Again, no reason. But he's a streaky player, what with all of those levers, winches, and pulleys required just to make the guy blink, fer crying out loud. The home run today reminded everyone that he still has freaky power. He has freaky everything. But considering how unusual his swing and approach happen to be, he can still hit a ball rather far.
Ian Miller of Baseball Prospectus (and delorean to you) told me that one of the best batting-practice shows he's ever seen was one he witnessed by Hunter Pence last month. He said Pence hit shots that threatened the Coke bottle.
That isn't to say Pence will get hot, or that there's any reason to be optimistic other than that sweet .223/.295/.363 line he had with the Giants coming into today. But if I had to pick a random guy, if I had to pick someone based nothing on my gut and spidey-sense, and if I had to pin a thorax on the mantis, Pence is my guy.
It's weird. There's a player on the team right now of whom you'll have a drastically different opinion soon. There's someone who could go Jose Cruz, Jr., and there's someone who could go Cody Ross.
There's also Matt Cain. Matt Cain.
The playoffs are going to mess with us. But maybe they'll mess with us in a good way. A healthy, happy, and hitting Hunter Pence would do just fine, thanks.