Could Barry Zito be preparing to stage “Alex Smith, the Sequel”?
The reaction to his shutout against the Rockies on Monday sounded eerily familiar. First baseman Aubrey Huff’s gloating on Zito’s behalf was almost identical to the told-you-sos from left tackle Joe Staley after his quarterback became a bona fide winner for the 49ers.
The bitter exasperation over their years of failure matched up pretty well, too. They made an unprecedented tandem in Bay Area sports, the twin albatrosses. They also maintained the same demeanor, consistently decent and professional under the most difficult circumstances.
They eventually shared a trait vital to rebuilding a crumbling sports career: greatly diminished expectations. Smith learned that he didn’t have to prove he was Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. At the start of the 2011 football season, he had passed the point where he had to play like the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
Zito should have reached the same point last year, after being left off the Giants’ postseason roster in 2010. There’s a strong possibility he hasn’t reached it yet. In his five seasons as a Giant, Zito has gone through some very promising stretches. Through May 5, 2010, he had a 5-0 record with a 1.49 ERA. That mastery evaporated over the summer….
Zito’s seven-year, $126 million contract no longer has to be viewed as an unbearable weight on his team, obstructing the Giants’ ability to retain the young pitchers who have been far more successful over the past five years. Zito doesn’t have to prove that he is The Man. He hasn’t had to prove that in a while. The Giants, after all, won a World Series without him.