The San Francisco Giants found an unlikely enforcer willing to play the role of the old-school tough guy on Thursday.
Remember Prince Fielder's September 2009 walkoff home run that beat the Giants? How Fielder and his teammates enjoyed a choreographed celebration as Fielder crossed the plate?
The Giants, particularly Zito, remember well.
In Fielder's first at-bat versus the Giants since the celebration that caused a furor in the San Francisco clubhouse, Fielder took a Zito fastball flush on his right hip in Thursday's spring training game between the two teams in Arizona.
It's conceivable Zito was also serving notice to Fielder that the three-run bomb he hit off the Giants lefty isn't forgotten either.
After Fielder was hit by the pitch on Thursday, he picked up the ball and tossed it to the mound and past Zito. There were no words exchanged.
The Giants and Brewers open a four-game regular season series in Milwaukee on July 5. Chances are that Zito's hard-nosed response to the flamboyant Fielder's home plate shenanigans could be the story—on the field—once again.
If there's a baseball god who still believes players can express themselves any way they like, as long as they're willing to deal with retaliation, the Brewers and Giants will be in the playoff race when Milwaukee visits San Francisco for three games beginning Sept. 17.
Zito's the veteran of the Giants staff, so the fact that he'd take it upon himself to deal with Fielder isn't a surprise. The surprise is that Zito's taken another big step to distance himself more from the laid-back, Zen god of the game that he appeared to have become when his epic struggles reached their peak in his first two years with the Giants.
Now, Zito talks about regaining No. 1 status in a gifted starting rotation.
"I want to earn my stature back. I don't expect anybody to give it to me," he said recently. "I want to be a top-of-the-rotation guy again. I want to be out there on Opening Day, getting the win. It's important to me."
Zito took a step toward being the emotional leader of the staff on Thursday.