MLB: Barry's back! Giants Zito improves to 5-0
By Andrew Baggarly
San Jose Mercury News
MIAMI — Barry Zito could have been talking about himself. Instead, he was referring to reliever Sergio Romo.
"Bouncing back," said Zito, "that's the hardest thing to do as a pitcher."
Baseball is full of lyrical lessons, most of which contain just as much truth in the short term as in the broader, 162-game view.
Zito's inspiring emergence from a long, dark wilderness continued Wednesday night with seven brilliant innings in the Giants' 3-2 victory over the Florida Marlins. Romo's bounce-back was more of a 24-hour thing.
A day after Romo surrendered a three-run home run to Dan Uggla that cost Tim Lincecum a win and nearly blew the game, the little right-hander with the flying-saucer slider got a chance at redemption.
He seized it.
Romo entered a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the eighth and saved Zito's decision while stranding all three runners. Romo threw three consecutive sliders to strike out nuclear-hot Hanley Ramirez, then got Jorge Cantu to bounce into a double play.
Brian Wilson gave up a run in the ninth but stranded Ronny Paulino at third base as the Giants clinched their fourth consecutive series victory and yet again positioned themselves for a sweep.
Through their success, they are believing in one another.
"Romo is unbelievable," Zito said. "He has as much courage and tenacity as anybody I've ever played with."
Zito tossed a three-hit shutout through seven innings before giving up pillow-soft singles to the first four batters he faced in the eighth.
"A curveball off my glove, a jam-shot slider, an infield hit to (third base), and the next guy rolls over a changeup and hits a seven-hopper to the six-hole," Zito said. "I'm not upset at myself at all in that inning."
Manager Bruce Bochy said before the game that he wouldn't hesitate going back to Romo in a tight spot, even though the right-hander had given up a few tragically timed home runs.
Bochy was true to his word.
"It's for sure a statement in a big way from my manager and coaching staff that I can be the guy and get it done," Romo said. "I'm figuring out how to handle myself. Zito is a good example of the ups and downs. He's a very determined individual. I'd like to take that from him and copy that, if I can."
As Romo warmed up, cameras caught Ramirez and Cantu gesturing with a sweeping motion, presumably discussing Romo's slider.
They knew it was coming. Romo was determined to throw it.
He was upset at himself for getting beat on a fastball the previous night, so he went after Ramirez—who entered with a 9-for-18 streak with four home runs—with three consecutive funhouse mirror pitches.
"Was I replaying last night in my head? No," Romo said. "Hey, it was my time. "I thought, 'Zito just put his heart on the line, so why can't I?' "
Zito (5-0) was masterful again. He struck out four and walked one while lowering his ERA to 1.49. Opponents are batting .182 against him.
And yet he said he's struggled with fastball command the past couple of outings. He estimated he threw fewer than 40 percent fastballs.
"Tonight, I was just showing it enough to keep it honest," Zito said. "It's been real good, real mellow. Just go as hard as I can and hope the baseball gods are good to me."
Aaron Rowand's prayer flags must be fluttering in the breeze, too. He hit a solo home run in the sixth—an impressive, 400-foot shot to the opposite field—and also drove in a run with a ground out in the third. His roller scored second baseman Matt Downs, who reached base four times.
Rowand is off to a strong start after spending two weeks on the disabled list because of facial fractures, including a week of mandated inactivity at the ballpark.
"Now, whether he was going down to Monterey and hitting in the batting cage, I don't know," Bochy said, smiling.