SAN FRANCISCO -- We are seeing two of the greatest urban renewal projects in San Francisco history that have not been due to an earthquake. Although Barry Zito's $126 million contract probably registered at least 7.0 on the Richter scale.
After six seasons and nearly $100 million, the Experience Zito Project was beginning to resemble Boston's Big Dig as an expensive, exhausting and unending "Under Construction" zone. When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, the team left the former Cy Young winner off the postseason roster even though he was its highest-paid player. But his past two starts this October have almost justified that entire contract.
"I think that he knows what an awesome deal this is," Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "I'm sure he goes home every night and smiles at his wife and just feels good. He's had so many times here when he's been frustrated, distressed, annoyed and lost sleep. And to have a postseason like he's having now? He deserves it. Because he works hard. He never makes excuses. He can't be better than what he's doing now.
"I think he's enjoying being a solid pitcher in the postseason. He knows this is what he was brought in here to do six years ago, and he's fulfilling his end of the matter when it matters."
When the Giants trailed the Cardinals three games to one in the National League Championship Series and were one loss from winter, Zito beat St. Louis with 7 1/3 scoreless innings Friday. In Wednesday night's World Series opener, he faced off against reigning Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander, and held the Tigers scoreless the first five innings en route to an 8-3 victory. He also singled in a run and brought the sellout San Francisco crowd to its feet chanting, "Bar-ry! Bar-ry! Bar-ry!" as if it was 2002 and the night's hero was someone wearing a size 9 1/2 batting helmet.
"I battled in September to make the postseason roster," said Zito, who allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings. "The last thing I would have expected at that point was to be starting Game 1. Just the opportunity was magical. To be able to go up against Verlander and give our team a chance to go up 1-0, and the fact that we won, it's just kind of surreal."
"I think he's just in a really good mindset right now," Tim Lincecum said. "Regardless of what happens in the inning, he just goes out and focuses on that batter and that pitch."
Lincecum is undergoing his own revitalization program. Unlike Zito, he came up with the Giants, won two Cy Youngs in a San Francisco uniform and was the hero when the club finally won its first World Series since moving to the city in 1958. So he'll always be a fan favorite here. He received a thunderous ovation during introductions for the division series even though he was coming off the worst season of his career -- 10-15 with the highest ERA in the league (5.18).
That awful season kept him out of the starting rotation for the division series but he's found new life pitching out of the bullpen. He struck out five batters Wednesday and didn't allow a ball out of the infield in 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. He has pitched 10 2/3 innings in relief this postseason, allowing only one earned run and three hits while striking out 14. He's relaxed and letting the ball fly.
"I'm pretty comfortable in this role now," Lincecum said. "I'm just riding the adrenaline."
And the Giants' fans love it. They reacted like Springsteen had taken the stage when he ran out to the bullpen to warm up and again when he took the mound to replace Zito.
"To have him in the bullpen, it's like just ridiculous," Zito said. "It's such a tool in our pocket that we can bust out at any time a guy that has made history with his two Cy Youngs. It was really special personally, too, to watch Timmy carve them up and just do what he does. It was great."
Lincecum and Zito have been good friends since the two joined the Giants in 2007. "But I think we got a little closer this year because I just tried to be there for him and help him out sometimes if he needed it," Zito said.
Zito learned about frustrating times when the Giants played the 2010 World Series without him. Affeldt says Zito was sad that he was left off the roster that postseason but he never showed it. "He was always on the bench cheering. Always pulling for guys. Throwing bullpens and running. He kept working. Just in case we needed him [due to an injury]," Affeldt said.
"The way he handled himself not being on the roster and cheered for the team was pretty awesome. The way he was able to go about it, I think Timmy has seen that someone else on this team has been through some rough patches as well, and he didn't even get to play. So I think Timmy is very grateful that he's pitching. And he's pitching well."
Lincecum said he would be available to pitch in Game 2 but manager Bruce Bochy said he will give Lincecum the night off, then use him in Game 3 if necessary.
"The thing about Timmy, he's so competitive but at the same time he's such a good teammate," Bochy said. "When I talked to him about this, he said was all-in. He wants to do it, he wants to help, he's ready. It's a nice weapon to have."
The Tigers have Verlander. But facing a former Cy Young winner followed by a two-time Cy Young winner is like being a tourist driving through a very long, very frustrating and very backed-up detour due to a reconstruction project -- or a possible victory parade.