The San Francisco Giants had good reason to feel confident going into their final series of the regular season against the San Diego Padres. After launching themselves into first place in the National League West on a run fueled by an incredible September performance from their pitchers, the Giants needed only one victory against divisional rival San Diego in order to win the the division and guarantee themselves a playoff spot. After losing on Friday, things probably got a bit tense. Then came Barry Zito‘s start on Saturday:
There’s no need to go over Barry Zito’s performance relative to his contract once again. Zito started the season impressively, at least superficially, and some thought he may have turned a corner. However, Zito unsurprisingly returned to form by the end of the season: a mediocre pitcher whose most valuable attribute is that his fly ball tendencies play well in his home park. He’s not great, or even good, but he probably won’t kill his team. Most of the time.
If Zito wasn’t the sole murderer on Saturday, he was definitely the chief accomplice. Rob Neyer once suggested that a start in which a pitcher gives up more runs than innings pitched be labeled a “disaster start.” Zito allowed four runs in three innings, so Saturday’s start qualifies. What is particularly striking is that Zito “drove in” two of the runs himself on consecutive bases-loaded walks in the first inning. After giving up singles to Chris Denorfia and David Eckstein to open the game, Miguel Tejada bunted the runners over. Zito and Giants manager Bruce Bochy then vividly demonstrated why intentional walks are rarely a good idea. Yes, first base was open, and Adrian Gonzalez is a far superior hitter than Ryan Ludwick.* It “worked,” at least temporarily, as Ludwick made an out. However, the bases were still loaded, and Zito proceeded to walk Yorvit Torrealbea and Scott Hairston consecutively, driving in the first two runs of the game.
* Without doing the all necessary calculations, it is worth noting that the lefty Zito would have had at least something of a platoon advantage against the left-handed hitting Gonzalez.
That wasn’t all that mattered in the game — the Padres scored another run in the third on a Pablo Sandoval error and tacked on another in the fourth that was credited to Zito, who he had just been relieved by Chris Ray after allowing two more runners on base. But those walks were two of the biggest shifts of the game in terms of Win Probability Added, and probably two of the more devastating walks of the season from the perspective of the Giants and their fans.
It isn’t all on Zito, of course. The Giants still had a chance in the ninth when they were down 4-2 and had with runners on first and third and one out, but Jose Guillen grounded into a double play. Although San Francisco can still win the division by beating the Padres on Sunday, if the Giants do end up watching the playoffs on TV, Zito’s disastrous first inning (with an assist from Bochy) in today’s game will definitely stand out.