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2012: #RallyZito

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Just as Peter Magowan predicted when he signed him to a 7-year mega deal, the Giants’ dynastic run of the 2010s hinged on Barry Zito.

Game 5: San Francisco at St. Louis Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

So, it has come to this.

That became the theme of the 2012 season as the Giants entered the postseason. After 94 wins and an NL West division crown, the Giants still found themselves as the lower seed against the Reds in the NLDS; but because of the last minute addition of the Wild Card Game to the schedule, for one time only, the format would be 2-3, with the first two games of the series being hosted by the lower seed.

It seemed like a huge break. The Giants were 48-33 (.593) at home that season. A possible 2-0 series advantage heading back to Cincinnati (50-31, .617 at home) felt like an improbable dream, even as it was plausible.

Instead, the Giants left San Francisco down 0-2, and it seemed like the 2010 dream of a repeat that had been broken by the nightmare of 2011 was about to meet an ungraceful end in 2012.

So, it had come to this: after everything the team had been through, all they’d accomplished, they needed to win three straight games on the road against a team that didn’t lose at home.

Somehow, the Giants won three straight games — you know how.

latos

There was more to it, but the Giants were on the mat and nearly down for the count only to come all the way back to win the fight. They fanned the flames of hope and transformed anxiety back into excitement.

Until the NLCS.

This time, the Giants had home field advantage, but it was the same setup as the last round: they had the first two games at home. They were going to need to get all the breaks they could. The Cardinals had the best lineup in the National League. The Giants split those two games, which wasn’t ideal but wasn’t terrible. But then they lost the next two games in St. Louis, setting up their fourth elimination game of the postseason . . .

With Barry Zito slated to start.

Zito was the Giants’ $127 million man in year six of what had already been a failed 7-year deal. He’d been left of the 2010 postseason roster, missed most of 2011 due to injury and a 5.87 ERA. His 2012 had been not terrible — 4.15 ERA / 4.49 FIP in 184.1 IP — but he was not the guy you wanted starting an elimination game on the road. He was not even the concept of a pitcher you’d want anywhere near an elimination game.

Grant wrote all about this fateful game in this post following Zito’s retirement in 2015:

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.

So, it came to this: with the Giants’ season on the line and one miracle comeback already hurdled, they were going to have to push in their chips and see if their Barry Zito card would win the hand.

The Giants felt beyond hopeless. I remember the mood very well. Nobody was mad. There was an air of inevitability. The Giants hadn’t performed. There was no magic lineup swap or dark horse ace just waiting for an opportunity who could swoop in to save the day. It was just Barry Zito.

The concept of a dynasty was light years away from the thinking, but nobody wanted this run to end, because it meant that the fun and games were really over. If Hunter Pence’s fiery speech merely got them one series and not another, did it really matter? Would that grand slam amount to being just a little more significant than J.T. Snow’s three-run homer? These were the thoughts we were left to ponder.

Until Giants fan Adrian on Twitter started the #RallyZito hashtag on Twitter. That became a flicker of light at the end of a dark tunnel. The faintest spark of hope to race towards. There was nothing we could do to save the Giants except lean into the inevitably and hope for the implausible. A lot of familiar names helped get this movement started and let’s all stop to consider just how wholesome it was.

Giants fan Britt Huber of Brentwood, Calif. explained. “I asked on Twitter whether anyone had a suggestion of a new rally image. Adrian [Perez] suggested the picture he ended up using and it went from there with everyone finding their favorite pictures of Zito to use.”

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“It was a good distraction from stressing out over the game all day,” Huber said. “I think it definitely made us all feel a bit more connected, though, and introduced people to other fans they didn’t know before.”

Fans commiserated over their team’s certain fate with the ultimate “So, it has come to this”: sharing their favorite pictures of a doomed pitcher for a slight dopamine hit in the face of sports-induced sadness. The zen practice of surrender.

But it wasn’t born solely of desperation. A ring in 2010 helped a lot. Understanding that the playoffs are a crap shoot helped, too. Sometimes the better team does win. We were mostly okay with the Giants’ fate in 2012 because we were okay with the Giants.

The best thing to happen to the Giants in 2012 was our acceptance of them. Bonds was gone. The stadium wasn’t new. This same team had already been to the top of the mountain. We knew they were good, and we figured, hey, they could get back again.

Has there been another point in the past 30 years of Giants Baseball when the fan base has been this okay with the outcome of a season? Sure, sometimes we go into one knowing it’s going to be awful, but when they come up short against higher expectations, that’s usually a cause for consternation. It’s how ever team’s fan base behaves when their team isn’t the last one standing. But in this one moment, we were oddly okay with whatever happened.

For one moment, we were all pure fans and we all loved the team, and in their darkest hour of the year, we shone brightest.