SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Zito is playing his part in this World Series, all right.
After years of being labeled baseball's most overpaid pitcher, Zito took the ball Wednesday night and thoroughly outshined reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to lead the San Francisco Giants to an 8-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers that sent the orange-crazed home fans into a Zito-fueled frenzy.
Three home runs from Pablo Sandoval only helped Zito's cause in Game 1.
The left-hander watched his teammates clinch the World Series title two years ago in Texas, never playing a part on the field that postseason. That was all the motivation he needed to revive his career in his early 30s.
Now, he has the Giants one win closer to another championship after a dazzling World Series debut. The left-hander has just about earned his $126 million contract in a sensational span of six days. A hefty chunk of it, anyway.
Last Friday night at Busch Stadium, Zito pitched a season-saving 5-0 victory against St. Louis and sent the Giants home trailing the defending champion Cardinals 3-2 -- and they rallied again to reach a second World Series in three years.
For anyone who doubted Zito could deliver on the big October stage, while facing the daunting task of dueling with Verlander, he didn't flinch once. And when two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum came out of the bullpen to replace him in the sixth, Zito
During his 2012 transformation back to reliable starter, the 33-year-old Zito never wanted the focus to be on him or how he's accomplished this remarkable comeback but rather what he could add to make the Giants a winner and playoff contender again. And, possibly, win another World Series ring along the way.
Nobody is questioning Zito's talents now. His line of one run on six hits, three strikeouts and a walk in 5 2-3 innings was hardly spectacular -- but it rarely is. Zito is doing just what manager Bruce Bochy asks of him: giving the Giants a chance to win.
Zito even added an RBI single in the fourth, following up his bunt base hit in Friday's win, as Giants starting pitchers drove in a run for the fourth straight game.
This is the ultimate win for Zito, years in the making. Not that he will say it quite that way. That's not how he operates.
When Zito was told he wasn't going to be on the postseason roster in 2010, in one of manager Bruce Bochy's toughest conversations with a player, the pitcher immediately went to work. He threw a bullpen session, he kept himself ready if needed -- but never got the chance. It hurt to the core, even if he never said it.
He tried different deliveries and pitching motions, he added a cutter to his repertoire to give him four solid pitches to keep hitters guessing.
In front of a sellout crowd at AT&T Park on this night, he pitched first to chants of "Barry! Barry!" and later to hollers of "Zito! Zito!" Who could have seen this memorable World Series moment coming for Zito, only two years after all the boos, from every direction, in his home ballpark?
The Giants have won Zito's last 14 starts, and he hasn't lost since Aug. 2 against the Mets. Zito went 15-8 this season for his most victories since joining the Giants
"They score runs for him," general manager Brian Sabean said, "in very odd ways."