Barry Zito, the gift that just keeps giving, imploded in the sixth inning Sunday as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Giants 6-1 in the concluding game of the weekend series.
Zito held the Cardinals to one run in the first five innings, helped by two double plays, one of them a terrific third-second-first effort started by Pablo Sandoval, who is much more nimble after his weight loss in the offseason. Sandoval also made a nice running catch later in foul territory. He wouldn’t have made either of those plays last season.
Zito got one out in the sixth and then walked Matt Holliday, which was no surprise; he hadn’t wanted to pitch to Holliday in his first two at-bats, either. But then he walked Allen Craig — and he hadn’t thrown a strike to either hitter.
Manager Bruce Bochy should have taken him out at that point.
“I was trying to protect the bullpen a little,” Bochy said after the game. “We’d had an extra-inning game on Friday and they’d pitched a lot. Zito had pitched well in getting out of trouble earlier, but he’d lost his release point. I thought he could get it under control.”
Zito talked as if the whole thing was a mystery to him.
“I was getting my pitches high. I don’t know exactly why,” he said.
Really? After all this time?
The problem is really simple: At this stage of his career, Zito is a pitcher who gets in trouble in his third time through the lineup because he can’t throw the ball past hitters and, by the third time, they’ve figured him out.
Sure enough, as soon as Zito started getting the ball in the strike zone, the Cardinals started smoking it. David Freese, who had three hits in the game, doubled. So did Skip Schumacher, whose drive skipped off the glove of Aaron Rowand in left center.
Finally, Bochy took Zito out, but the game was lost. For the rest of the season, Bochy is going to have to watch Zito closely. After five innings, at the first sign of trouble, he should be out.
Most Giants fans stayed, hoping for another miracle, but it was never going to happen with the “Who are these guys?” lineup that started Sunday’s game.
Buster Posey, who received the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year award before the game, didn’t play. Neither did Miguel Tejada, the hero of the win Saturday night, or Pat Burrell or Andres Torres, who is suffering from what is described as a strained Achilles tendon and has his ankle and foot in a boot.
Bochy said after the game that Torres felt much better and an MRI hadn’t shown any structural damage, but nobody knows how soon he’ll return.
In their place were Mike Fontenot, Nate Schierholtz, Rowand and Eli Whiteside.
“I needed to give the regulars some rest,” Bochy said. “Buster had soreness after Friday’s game, Miggy can’t play every game. And I wanted these guys to get some at-bats.”
You can be sure, though, that the scrubs will be out of the lineup and the regulars back in for the upcoming series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. And, even better news: Zito won’t be pitching.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.