Barry Zito turns back the clock with gem in Game 5

13 Comments

10 years after winning a Cy Young Award for the A’s, six years after signing one of the worst contracts in major league history and two years after being left off the postseason roster for the World Series champions, Barry Zito finally came up big for the Giants on Friday.

With his team on the verge of elimination, Zito shut out the Cardinals for 7 2/3 innings in a 5-0 victory, sending the ALCS back to San Francisco for a Game 6 on Sunday.

It was actually the 13th straight start of Zito’s that the Giants have won, but tonight was easily the left-hander’s best outing during the run. He had a 4.04 ERA during the previous 12 starts and had pitched more than seven innings just once.

That surge left Zito with far and away his best win-loss record in six years with the Giants. At 15-8, it was his first season over .500 since 2006, his last year with Oakland. Still, his 4.15 ERA was no better than his marks from 2009 and 2010. He finished with the worst strikeout rate of his career, fanning just 114 batters in 184 1/3 innings. Six years into a seven-year, $126 million deal, he has a 58-69 record and a 4.47 ERA for the Giants.

For one night, though, it hardly matters. Zito’s win tonight was his first in a postseason game since the 2006 ALDS with the A’s. He was a fine postseason pitcher for Oakland, going 4-3 with a 3.25 ERA in seven starts, but the Giants had no need of him when they won the World Series in 2010, opting to  leave him off the roster for all three series while they went with a rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner.

And if not for Bumgarner’s struggles in Game 1, Zito may never have gotten the call in this series, either. The Giants were lining up Lincecum for Game 4, and Bumgarner was initially supposed to pitch Game 5. It was Bumgarner’s 11.25 ERA in two postseason starts that led to the change of heart.

Now Zito is the hero, turning in the best start by a Giants hurler in 10 postseason games to date. If his teammates can help him out Sunday and Monday, then he’ll be lined up to start a World Series game for the first time in his career.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
2 Comments

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.