Heading into 2012, Barry Zito had not won more than 10 games since 2007, and his last winning season was in 2006. As age continued to creep in and on the heels of his worst season in the MLB, expectations for Zito were at an all-time low this season.
Consider those expectations met and surpassed.
Zito has had a complete resurgence this season, cemented by his dominant performance against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday night.
With control pitchers like Zito, the numbers don't tell the whole tale, but they do help to illustrate the strides he has made this year. His ERA of 4.15, while hardly stellar, is his second-best mark as a San Francisco Giant. More impressively, Zito has cut his walks down to the lowest mark in his career over a full season.
The stats are not dominant, but watching Zito reveals a vastly improved pitcher from just a year ago. He has come up big when needed, pitching brilliantly in September to cement the Giants' playoff status. Zito had a 3.03 ERA and 4-0 record in September, closing the season in spectacular fashion.
Zito put all that improvement and then some on display against the Cardinals. The control Zito displayed was divine. He nipped the corners of the strike zone and forced the Cardinals into weak contact all night.
The Giants needed nothing short of a miracle, and they got one from Zito. Pitching Zito was a big risk, as he did not even survive the third inning in his only other playoff start this year. The margin for error was nil: the Cardinals excel against left-handed pitching, with a .276 batting average in 2012. If Zito offered an easy pitch, the Cardinals would have been sure to capitalize.
Very rarely did Zito bend, though, surrendering six hits in just under eight innings. Zito did bend from time to time, but it was the Cardinals doing all the breaking. Zito forced the Cardinals into 10 ground balls and 12 fly balls, which the Giants' excellent fielding easily converted into outs.
Zito finally seems to be regaining the form that made him a perennial Cy Young candidate early in his career. He has accepted his physical limitations and has improved his control to the point of one again being capable of dominance, if only for small stretches of time.
In the most telling statistic of all, the Giants have won each of Zito's last 13 starts. He might not dominate, but he regularly puts his club in position to win the game.
Regardless of how the Giants finish this series, expect Zito to continue to assert himself as a solid pitcher in the future.