A soft-tossing southpaw or a 100 MPH-throwing righty on the world’s biggest stage?
The pitcher who recorded his first winning-season in the past five years or the pitcher who won the AL Cy Young and MVP just last year?
Or how about the man with a negative 0.3 wins above replacement versus the starter worth nearly eight wins to his team?
This downgrading of the Giants starter and elevating of the Tigers leading man in a successive-question format must end before it spirals out of control. I think it’s more prudent to establish the David-vs.-Goliath—or better yet—outcast-vs.-chosen-one dynamic between these two pitchers through historical developments.
We’re talking about a veritable pariah in San Francisco—a perennial scapegoat for all the city’s ills—taking on the savior of a franchise who receives effusive praise from even the most diehard of enemies.
Up until the concluding portion of this season, Zito could do no right; no matter how gregarious he was with fans and media. Verlander—minus a regrettable 2006 postseason—could simply do no wrong.
The Giants Faithful watched continually as their $126 million-man offered up 61 losses in a five-year span and contributed seemingly nothing to the team’s winning sentiments. Management finally said heck with it and left him off the 2010 World Champion roster.
All the while in Detroit, the Tigers reveled in the glory of Verlander’s 90 wins during the same time period (2007-11).
But all that ends today.
Barry Zito will consummate the recently mended relationship between himself and San Francisco Giants fans with a gutsy, if not historic outing, in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series. And he’ll do so against the mighty Verlander, who some deem as an unconquerable force on a pitching mound.
Here’s how it’ll go down.
The Giants have walked down victory lane in Zito’s last 13 starts, and have done so for a reason—however bizarre as it may be.
It really amounted to some sort of odd symbiotic relationship. Zito either shut down the opposition so the Giants hitters could take a day-off of sorts, or the bats would come alive when their pitching compatriot needed a pick-me-up on a bad day at the office.
For example, when Zito would hold opponents to two runs, the offense would merely drive home an adequate four; when he limited opponents to one run, the bats would only need to drive in three.
On the flip side, when Zito gave up four runs, his Giants would knock in nine; when he lasted fewer than five innings, they would score at least six.
The important idea here is that there was a connection between Zito and Team that had never before existed in San Francisco. Whether it materialized through some tangible thing like Hector Sanchez catching and Buster Posey playing first, or something more ethereal like the baseball gods looking favorably on Zito, the reasoning is largely irrelevant.
The Giants have inexplicably survived a journey that only one other team in MLB history has traversed. It was a path requiring victories in six consecutive elimination games to earn a trip to the World Series.
The Giants conquered it, and Zito overcame the greatest obstacle of all—NLCS Game 5 when his team was down 3-1 in enemy territory. Tossing 7.2 innings of shut-out ball against the Cardinals, an offensive powerhouse, was as unpredictable as it was incredible.
Which now brings me to my next point: when everything is stacked so heavily against the Giants, they merely find a way to come out on top. This time, it’s Verlander’s superior skill set and track record compared to the inferior ones of Zito’s.
Detroit’s ace throws a triple-digit fastball that is complemented by an at times unhittable curveball, as well as an above average changeup—one that travels faster than Zito’s fastball. Verlander led the AL in WAR, strikeouts, complete games and innings pitched.
And he carried that dominance straight into the postseason.
Through three starts and 24.1 innings pitched, Verlander is a perfect 3-0 with 25 strikeouts and a 0.82 ERA. His K:BB ratio is a silly 5:1.
Compounding matters for Zito and the Giants is Verlander’s 7-0 record in his last seven starts dating back to September 14. In those 52.1 innings, he recorded 52 punch outs, surrendered just four earned runs and notched a four-hit shutout against Oakland in Game 5 of the ALDS.
Wow—seems like the guy’s unconquerable after all.
But that’s entirely the point: when Verlander should feast on the aggressive tendencies of Giants hitters; when the Tigers should smash all over Zito’s slowest average fastball in the league; when home plate umpire Jerry Davis’ tight strike zone should limit Zito’s ability to pitch on the corners…
…or when a superior team like the Tigers should simply wipe out its inferior, the unexpected will become the expected, and improbable hope will transform into reality.
The San Francisco Giants have rendered the impossible, possible, throughout the postseason and will do so again for at least one more night.
Barry Zito winning a head-to-head matchup against Justin Verlander?
Don’t ask me how; just remember the look on the face of the person sitting next to you.
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