Barry Zito Tosses Improbable Masterpiece; Aubrey Huff Manages to Leave a Smudge

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Barry Zito Tosses Improbable Masterpiece; Aubrey Huff Manages to Leave a Smudge
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Barry Zito succeeded where Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain all failed before him—he pitched the 2012 San Francisco Giants to win No. 1.

The former Cy Young winner went the full nine innings, walked nary a batter, allowed only four hits, struck out four and kept the Colorado Rockies off the scoreboard for the duration. In just two hours and 52 minutes, Zito erased much of the gloom from the season-opening sweep in Arizona with his first shutout since 2003.

And just when things seemed like they couldn't get any better, they didn't.

Aubrey Huff came along and put a damper on everything with some ill-conceived words of support for his teammate. But we'll get to the the Last Water Buffalo in due course.

Let's keep the focus on Zeets for a while longer.

In the rarefied and offensively accommodating air of Coors Field, the southpaw threw his most improbable revival yet during his time in San Francisco.

Mind you, we've been here before; Zito's been mostly horrible since he signed the infamous seven-year, $126 million contract before the 2007 season, but there have been glimpses of brilliance in all that batting practice simulation.

During last year's lost campaign, Zito tossed this eight-inning, seven-strikeout, no-walk gem versus the San Diego Padres.

In 2010, Baked Zito enjoyed a fine April and June before the wheels came off. Even after his season went south, Barry twirled this eight-inning, two-hitter with 10 whiffs against the New York Mets.

And, in a basically dismal 2009, the lanky lefty baffled the then-Florida Marlins for 8.1 innings, suffering only five base-runners while striking out six. There have been other notable performances along the way, so the Giant faithful are no strangers to sporadic and brief signs of life from Zito.

But none of those can compare with his latest diamond from the rough.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

We've already covered the basics—9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K—but those don't begin to do justice to this bad rider.

Los Gigantes desperately needed a victory after their three studs stumbled against the Diamondbacks. It's not often you'll see San Francisco lose three games started by the Freak, MadBum and Cain in which 14 runs are evenly distributed, but that's the unsettling reality that unfolded in the desert. So the club had to be shell-shocked, starving for a win and heading to the Mile High City with their fourth, highly flammable starter taking the hill.

Despite Zito's crazy lifetime success against the Rockies, the outlook seemed bleak.

Barry Zito is not supposed to be the stopper in the best of times, and these were not the best of times considering how poorly he'd performed in spring training (19.1 IP, 17 ER, 32 H, 12 BB, 5 HR).

So for him to come out and twirl his first shutout in nine years and over 270 starts, stop the three-game slide and get the Giants their first win of the season? Yahtzee.

Which, unfortunately, brings us back to Huff.

Aubrey had this to say in the wake of Zito's masterpiece: "I couldn't be happier for Barry. It's no secret he's been buried by the fans, the media and everything like that...all the haters out there, that's for them."

It's easy to see where Huff is coming from—not only does Zito seem like a decent, hard-working teammate, but there's a good chance Aubrey also sees a bit of himself in the pitcher. The first baseman/left fielder has been underwhelming (some would say putrid) since signing his two-year, $22 million contract. Making matters worse, he's off to a slow start through four games (.214 and no homers) and is probably beginning to feel the squeeze.

Nevertheless, Huff needs to pipe down.

It's fine to take potshots at the media; that's good, clean fun. But the fans have every right to be frustrated with Zito (and Huff, for that matter) and to voice that frustration. Personally, I don't boo players who seem like decent human beings and who appear to be genuinely trying, but I've got a high boo threshold.

If other fans feel the need to vent when a professional making $18 million a year can't pitch to a sub-4.00 ERA in the NL West while calling AT&T Park his home, can't pitch well enough to stay in the starting rotation and can't pitch well enough to justify his placement on the 2010 postseason roster, well, I think you've got to accept that.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Is it fair that fans enjoy dumping on players who are earnestly trying to play well, but who simply can't find their stride? That depends.

Is it fair that Barry Zito will make $19 million in 2012 for throwing a baseball? Is it fair that Aubrey Huff will make $10 million for swinging at one?

Huff, and many pros, would be wise to keep those questions in mind because the answer to both must be the same. If it's fair for ballplayers to be lavished with such riches, then it's fair for fans to hold them to brutally high standards.

More importantly, why choose that moment, when blue skies were finally breaking and everyone interested in Giants baseball should've been breathing easy, to float a black cloud?

It would be one thing if Zeets had been unfairly criticized or if Huff had kept his fire targeted on the media. The former would obviously change the entire situation, and the latter could be ignored if not applauded despite being off-base.

Alas, he put the fans in the crosshairs.

That demands some sort of rebuttal, a rebuttal which inevitably reminds everyone just how bad Barry Zito's body of work has been with the Giants.

Instead of letting everyone relish just how brilliant he was for nine innings in Colorado.

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