SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Barry Zito is coming off his biggest season in years, a redeeming, comeback season.
Yet he sees absolutely no reason to be nostalgic about anything he accomplished during the Giants’ 2012 championship run.
Not even that season-saving Game 5 win he pitched in the NL championship series against St. Louis. The Cardinals come to AT&T Park on Friday for the Giants’ home opener, and Zito will be on the mound to face them once again amid much fanfare as the city celebrates another title during a festive pregame ceremony.
Zito expects to be so focused on his start that he will do his best to ignore the highly anticipated sideshow.
“I can’t predict how I am,” Zito said. “I would like to stay focused on what I have to do and my process and not get caught up too much in the festivities and stuff like that. That’s great for the fans, obviously. That’s for them to enjoy but for us we’ve got to focus on our tasks.”
The Giants will raise the championship flag before the Friday afternoon contest, then honor NL MVP and batting champion Buster Posey before Saturday’s game. Zito played a key role in winning the trophy.
With San Francisco facing elimination down 3-1 in the best-of-seven NLCS, Zito beat the Cardinals in St. Louis to send the series back to the Bay Area. The Giants won two more to reach the World Series, then Zito beat Justin Verlander and the well-rested Detroit Tigers in Game 1 to help lead a stunning 4-0 sweep.
And, to think only two years earlier, the high-priced lefty was left off the postseason roster for all three rounds as the Giants won their first championship since moving from New York in 1958. Now, Zito begins the seventh year of his $126 million, seven-year contract with something to prove again.
Whether he carries over any momentum from 2012, Zito has no idea. These days, he doesn’t count on anything – and approaches each day, each outing, with a fresh perspective.
That mindset worked so well last year, and he hopes for a repeat.
“I think it could be a bad thing to take a false sense of security into the season based on what we’ve done in the past,” Zito said.
Zito, who turns 35 next month, went 15-8 with a 4.15 ERA in 32 starts and 184 1-3 innings before his impressive playoffs. The wins were his most since crossing the bay from Oakland to join the Giants before the 2007 season.
He has plenty of incentive to put up another similar season.
The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with the A’s has an $18 million option for 2014 with a $7 million buyout on the contract he signed before the 2007 season, but his option becomes guaranteed if he throws 200 innings this year.
He hopes to build on a strong spring.
“He’s been right on, really since Game 1,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
The Giants were shut out by Clayton Kershaw in their season opener Monday before bouncing back and winning the final two games against the rival Dodgers. Angel Pagan went 4 for 12 in the series, and Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval each homered and had three hits in 11 at-bats.
St. Louis lost two of three in its opening series at Arizona, falling 10-9 in 16 innings Wednesday in a game it had many chances to put away.
Yadier Molina drove in three runs, including a leadoff homer that put the Cardinals up 8-7 in the seventh inning, but the Diamondbacks tied it at 8-all in the eighth. St. Louis scored in the 12th only to see Arizona tie it again in the bottom half.
“We got up on them a couple of times and they came back. That was just a really fun game to be a part of,” St. Louis’ Allen Craig said. “It was really long. I wish it was a little bit shorter and we would have won, but it was fun to be a part of. … We just couldn’t get it done.”
Jake Westbrook will try to help the Cardinals get on track when he takes the mound for the first time since an oblique strain ended his 2012 season in early September.
The right-hander went 13-11 with a 3.97 ERA in 28 starts, beating San Francisco 8-2 on Aug. 6 with six innings of two-run ball. Unfortunately for Westbrook, his injury would cost him another shot at facing the Giants.
“Last year is last year,” Westbrook told MLB’s official website. “This is a new year, and my first start just happens to be in San Francisco. It’s going to be hyped up and there will be a lot of excitement for them with all the festivities and stuff. But it’s a new year.”