Barry Zito announced his retirement on Monday, the three-year anniversary of some of the greatest all-time trolling in postseason history. The postseason specializes in trolling, so that's a bold claim. But Zito throwing 7⅔ innings shutout ball against a dominant Cardinals offense in an elimination game on the road? Absolutely impeccable trolling.
Let us revisit this.
Before the game, a fan started the #RallyZito hashtag because, well, there was nothing else fans could do. Out of the hopelessness came desperation, and out of the desperation came hope. If you're trapped in the pterodactyl's nest, you might as well start banging sticks together and see if it will dance to your beautiful rhythms and forget about you. That comparison doesn't make sense, but neither did that game.
The Cardinals were second in the NL in runs scored and first in adjusted OPS in 2012. Against left-handed starters, they hit .287/.358/.478 that year. Brandon Belt hit .280/.356/.478 in 2015. So Barry Zito was essentially facing a lineup of healthy Belts, and the odds were good that he was going to get crushed.
In the first inning, Zito gave up a single to Carlos Beltran with one out. Also, Zito had to face Carlos Beltran. And Matt Holliday. And Yadier Molina. And David Freese and Allen Craig back when they were good. My word, what an awful matchup for Zito. One on, one out, with the rest of the lineup looming.
After falling behind in the count, Zito struck out Holliday on a nasty curve, with Beltran stealing second on the play. That brought up Craig, who had a two-homer game against Zito just two months earlier.
Zito threw him a fastball here:
Doom. That pitch was dooooooooooom. Look where the target was. Look where the ball crossed the plate. Doooooooooooooooom. But it was fouled away. The next pitch was another nasty curve -- a theme of the night -- and Craig was finally retired when he lined a ball to a tumbling Pablo Sandoval at third base.
In the second inning, Molina hit a leadoff single, and Freese followed with a bloop double right in front of a sliding Hunter Pence. Two runners in scoring position, no outs. And that was the last thing we saw before the pillowcase was put over the head of the Giants' 2012 postseason run.
Except Zito wriggled out of it. The most important at-bat of the inning was against Daniel Descalso, who struck out. I did a pitch-by-pitch breakdown of that here, so click on that, then come back here if you're into continuity. Click on some ads, too.
Bruce Bochy had Zito walk Pete Kozma intentionally to get to the pitcher, Lance Lynn. The bases were loaded and there was just one out. As long as Lynn didn't hit into ...
The third inning went three-up, three-down, with Zito going full on Beltran (who hit a flyball) and Holliday (who struck out) (lol). Then the Giants exploded for four runs in the fourth, and Zito never allowed more than a single baserunner in any subsequent inning. He was removed with a runner on in the eighth, and the best fans in baseball gave him a standing "What the shit just happened?"
While it's tempting to look at that Craig GIF up there and think that Zito got lucky, he really did have a nice curveball and command of all his pitches. If Zito could become that pitcher whenever he wanted, he'd still be pitching next year.
And that's the story of how Barry Zito trolled the Cardinals and the world with a brilliant performance in Game 5 of the 2012 NLCS. There was no way it could get trollier. Absolutely no way.
I mean ... I guess if he bunted for an RBI single with two outs. But we're talking about things that could actually happen.
Even better: Zito's Clark Griswold look before he decides to bunt.
"This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy."
/jumps into pool with Christie Brinkley and/or bunts single down third-base line
That was the fourth run of the game, and it knocked Lance Lynn out. It gave Zito a cushion with which to work, and it was one of the reasons Bochy allowed him to complete 7⅔ innings. I suppose it's fair to wonder why David Freese was playing Zito like he was freaking David Ortiz, but not until you keep appreciating that Zito had the idea to bunt in the first place and executed it perfectly.
Does it seem like it was three years ago? Yeah, actually. A lot's happened since then. But it's still one of the greatest games in Giants history, partially because it was so unlikely, and partially because of what happened afterward. A week after this game, Zito matched up against super-robo-double-checkmark ace Justin Verlander and won. He got an RBI hit in that game, too.
We'll miss Barry Zito, not because we enjoyed watch him pitch, but because whenever we saw him or heard his name, we would think of this game. This game is the naughty limerick at the center of the universe, and it explains everything. That's true three years later. It'll be true in 300 years, too.