Barry Zito left his start against the Diamondbacks in the second inning on Saturday, but Guillermo Mota pitched a career-high four scoreless innings, and the Giants rallied against the Diamondbacks to win a 5-3 in a bizarre game.
It featured five different Giants batters grounding into double plays, it happened to be manager Bruce Bochy's birthday, and, of course, the Zito injury, which occurred as the lefty went after a bunt early in the game.
"Anytime you lose your starter in the second inning like that, you're scrambling," said Bochy, who, per Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News, had only won twice on his birthday before Saturday. "Mota saved us. If not for him, we don't win that game."
Fortunately for the Giants, Zito's injury doesn't appear to be too serious, as initial X-rays were negative.
I was pushing off to get the bunt, and my foot went at a weird angle," Zito said.
It's been a bizarre season for the highest-paid fourth starter in the league. He was considered a candidate to be cut during the early part of spring training, then proceeded to pitch well and game momentum for the season before a freak car accident almost derailed his first start of the season.
Zito's a really odd case because he's a) been pretty bad statistically, but the way he pitched in the latter stages of spring training remains really intriguing. His strikeout rate (4.15 per nine innings) is way down, and his walk rate (5.54 per nine innings) is way up.
He hasn't given up many home runs, but perhaps that's because he's getting lucky -- his home run:fly ball ratio is 6.3 percent, which is down for him. Opponents are batting .245 against Zito and .262 on balls in play (another indicator of positive/negative luck), which is lower than the league average, but about right for Zito's career.
And he's only stranding 59.1 percent of his baserunners, which is pretty low for Zito and/or anyone. So will he come back and pitch well after dealing with these dents and dings he's suffered early in the season? There's certainly no guarantee, and his velocity, which is low, doesn't provide much optimism.
Because of the Giants schedule, Zito could easily skip a start, but there's a small chance he still takes his next turn in the rotation; that seems like a mistake at this point, if only because the lefty needs time to get healthy and try to get a hint of his mojo back.
But I digress -- it's just hard to make out what on Earth is going on with Zito and, speaking of luck, how about those five double-play balls the Giants handed over? That's a TON and they just so managed to happen in consecutive innings!
That, folks, is insane.
Fortunately, Buster Posey continued his hot play at the plate (he now has six hits and four RBI in his last four games) by smacking a tater in the first inning and Freddy Sanchez was big in the clutch, knocking in Aaron Rowand with a double in the sixth and plating Mark DeRosa and Brandon Belt with the game-winning single in the seventh.
All of that aside, though, Mota probably deserves some love too.
"Hats off to Guillermo Mota," said DeRosa. "He was the player of the game, no doubt."
For those that don't know, Mota ain't young. So to pitch the longest stretch -- four innings -- of his career at this stage is pretty darn impressive. To do it and keep the Diamondbacks off the board is just flat-out stupendous.
And, as we've covered in recent days, it's what this Giants team does. Or at least what the title-winning San Fran team did (read: pitch well enough to stay in games and find enough offense to give the bullpen a big enough lead to shut things down).
It's not-so-secretly an ideal formula, and it's one that they seem to be applying to 2011 after somewhat of a rough start.