Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Barry Zito proves that time is a flat circle, returns to A's like the last 10 years never happened

Fifteen years ago, on July 22, 2000, Barry Zito made his Major League debut with the Athletics. Taking on the Angels, Zito mixed his fastball and big looping curve to strike out six in five innings of one run ball. He also walked six, but, hey, that's what happens for rookies. 

description

Zito would spend seven years in green and gold, winning 102 games with a 3.56 ERA -- 25 percent better than league average -- while picking up a Cy Young and three All-Star Game appearances along the way thanks to that dipping, diving, time-stopping curveball.

description

And that's without even discussing his ignored by the Emmys appearance on JAG. (Yes, this really happened.) 

description

Zito would head across the Bay to the Giants in 2007, his next seven seasons a mix of highs (like when he shutout the Cardinals for 7 2/3 innings with the Giants facing elimination in the NLCS), and lows (led the league with 17 losses in 2008). 

And then the highest of highs when he grew out this mustache: 

description

But time played its cruel song with Zito, sapping his fastball of its velocity over the years -- going from 87 mph with the Athletics to a mere 83 mph in his final season with the Giants in 2013. There aren't many pitchers who can get away with that, and Zito wasn't an exception. 

After sitting out all of 2014, the 37-year-old Zito put his songwriting career on hold and signed a Minor League contract with the A's this spring. After posting a 3.46 ERA in Triple-A, everyone wanted to see the pitcher return to the Athletics one more time before he hung up his cleats: 

description

It turns out that included the Athletics brass, too: The team called up Zito on Sept. 16 to work out of the bullpen. It's a fitting farewell to baseball for the left-hander. 

Look, you can hardly see a difference: 

description

And it's not just the facial similarities either. On Sunday night, Zito came in from the 'pen against the Astros to make his first appearance back with Oakland -- and could you have honestly have been able to tell the difference between the before (left) and the after (right) without a hint? 

description

The left-hander saw a boost to his fastball while coming out of the bullpen, averaging 85.6 mph and even touching 87 mph. That would be his highest velocity since 2010 and almost identical to the number he posted in his last season with the Athletics in 2006. 

But the real highlight during Zito's inning of work was his patented curveball. While Colby Rasmus managed to drive a two-run jack out of the park, Zito also did this to Rasmus one pitch earlier: 

description

Just look at that pitch -- the high arc, the swooping break. It's not all that different from Zito's heyday: 

description

There aren't many 12-6 curves in the game today, and when the season ends on Oct. 4, there will be one less in the ranks. Be sure to catch as many of Zito's appearances as possible before it's all over -- while those 70-mph curves seem to hang in the air forever, that isn't actually the case.