By E. Chang
The Week That Was:
Won 3 against the Rockies.
Won 3, lost 1 against the Cubs.
9-4 for the season.
The Week That Will Be:
3 games in Milwaukee against the Brewers.
3 games at home against the Padres.
I've always thought Alex Smith and Barry Zito walked parallel paths in San Francisco. (So does Mercury News' Tim Kawakami.) In 2005, Alex Smith was drafted by the 49ers and got big-time money and took on big-time expectations as the 49ers' starting quarterback. Two years later, Barry Zito became the highest paid pitcher in baseball when he joined the Giants to become the ace of the pitching staff. Almost immediately, San Francisco fans wanted a refund on both players.
The reasons why both Alex and Barry sucked abound, and the level of suckage can be debated, but it can not be denied that suck they did. In his first year as a Giant, Barry started the season as the team's Opening Day pitcher, an honor reserved for the team's ace. By the time the Giants made it to the playoffs and ultimately the World Series in 2010, Barry was invited to ride the pine because he was left off the team's roster. That's right, the highest-paid player on the Giants was told to sit this one out. Now, I will never pretend to know what professional athletes think or feel--mainly because while Barry has a $126 million contract keeping him warm at night, I have a $30 comforter from IKEA--but still, being left off the team had to have hurt.
Alex's moment came in the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs of the 2011 season. Playing against the bounty-hunting Saints, it was Alex Smith that went Django Unchained. In the last frenetic and feverish five minutes of that game, Alex shed five years of doubt, ridicule, and outright hostility. Because of that game, I went from rolling my eyes at the mention of his name to lifting my glass out of begrudging respect. Ah, who am I kidding? He made me fall in love.
Last year, Barry had his moment. In Game 5 of the NL Championship Series, the Giants found themselves on the wrong side of a 3-1 series against the Cardinals. In St. Louis and facing elimination, the Giants placed the ball in Barry's glove, patted him on the ass, and sent him to the mound. Most Giants fans probably figured, "Welp, we had a good run." But by the time he walked off that mound in the 8th inning with a shutout, the Giants' win was secure, the series lead was cut to 3-2, and the teams were coming back to San Francisco.
A few days later, Barry Zito was the Giants' starting pitcher for Game 1 of the World Series. He won. Against Verlander. And to top it off, he singled in a run in the 4th.
We all know what happened after Alex's moment — he signed a new contract with the 49ers and he followed up with a winning, playoff-bound season only to get injured and replaced by Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers went on to the Super sorry, I still can't talk about it. Colin is now the Niners' starting quarterback and Alex is a Kansas City Chief.
We don't know how this season will play out for Barry. I always figured this would be his last one as a Giant. I'm not smart enough to understand all the clauses and options in his contract, but I knew that 2013 was the 7th year of the 7-year deal signed way back when, and there's no way in heaven or hell the Giants would keep Barry. Turns out, Barry is making things interesting. Two games into the season, Barry has 2 wins, 0 losses and he has given up 0 runs. Going back to the last couple months of last season, the Giants have won every game that Barry has started. He's either our lucky charm or our ace pitcher, and though it's still easier to believe in the former than the latter, I'm more than happy to watch Barry prove me wrong. He hasn't completely won my heart yet, but I want him to.
Barry will probably take the mound twice this week: Tuesday against the Brewers and Sunday at home against the Padres.
The ONLY Good Thing I'll Ever Say About The Dodgers.
Baseball isn't real life. At its best, it might be a poetic metaphor for life; at its most innocuous, it's a simple distraction from life; and at its most sinister, it might be a circus. The gods of the game, those with names like Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, make no sense outside the context of baseball — they were great ballplayers, yes, but they were just ballplayers. But then there's that one Brooklyn Dodger.
If I were taking a photograph of Rosa Parks and Fred Korematsu and Harvey Milk, I'd spot Jackie Robinson off to the side, and I'd say, "Jackie, get in there!" And he'd laugh and wave me off, but Harvey would grab Jackie by the elbow and bring him into the picture the way Harvey does and they'd all smile and I'd snap the awesomest picture ever. Yes, Jackie belongs in that picture.
Jackie Robinson ran onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn 66 years ago today. Tax Day to most, Tax Evasion Day to these punks, for baseball fans, April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day. In 1997, Jackie's number 42 was retired; not by the Dodgers — by all of Major League Baseball. By doing so, baseball said that no one who ever plays this game at the highest level will ever wear #42 again — that number will forever belong to only one player. One exception: every year on April 15, every Major League player wears #42.
Thank you, Jackie, and, yes, thank you, coughDodgerscough.