How much goodwill do you get from two well-pitched, season-saving games?
We’ll probably find out this year – as Barry Zito and San Francisco Giants fans provide us with a fascinating study in social interaction.
Until last postseason, Zito was the punching bag of choice for Giants fans. He was overpaid. He was afraid to throw strikes. He cost the franchise the opportunity to sign free agents. When his contract ended after the 2013 season, it would be good riddance – and maybe the team should cut him loose before that.
Zito’s first postseason game last year – in which he got pounded by the Cincinnati Reds, although the Giants rallied to win – made things worse.
Then everything turned around.
Zito pitched brilliantly against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fifth game of the National League Championship series to keep the season alive, then pitched and won the first game of a World Series that the Giants swept. He was a hero.
So what happens now?
How many bad performances – and by that, I mean typical Zito games of four innings, five walks, four hits and six frustrating runs – does he get before the boos return? At what point do the “here we go again” complaints start?
Zito is scheduled to start the home opener on April 5 and will surely be cheered. He’ll probably get a few more games before the frustration begins, but what if he’s terrible in his first six outings? Do the boos return? Do the calls to release him start again? Is the World Series performance forgotten?
Tim Lincecum was terrible last season, but four-plus seasons of excellence bought him grace from the fans – to the point that even if he struggles again this year, he won’t be booed. Matt Cain has enough goodwill stored up that he could wear a Dodgers uniform and say he hates kittens and people would still cheer him. Pablo Sandoval is so beloved that he could eat to the point that he can’t stand and Giants fans would find him charming.
But Zito? After six seasons of frustration? Will two great postseason starts change everything?
My guess is that he’s got three or four starts before the moaning starts.
On to the topics du jour . . .
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Now that the San Francisco 49ers have reportedly reached an agreement with an unnamed team on a trade for quarterback Alex Smith, there’s a new concern: Who is Colin Kaepernick’s backup?
Smith certainly deserves a chance to play somewhere else – bet on him landing with the Kansas City Chiefs, by the way – but the proposed trade leaves Scott Tolzien as the only backup to Kaepernick, who has started a total of 10 games in his career and plays a style that leaves him vulnerable to injury.
The 49ers would be well-served by signing a veteran free agent quarterback – Jason Campbell and David Garrard come to mind – for the short term should Kaepernick be hurt.
There’s no great option for a serious injury, although Smith would be preferable to anything else out there.
That won’t work.
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If the Golden State Warriors make the playoffs – which looks increasingly likely – they will look back on this past weekend as the key.
The Warriors beat the San Antonio Spurs in overtime Friday night, then stole a one-point win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. Heading into Tuesday’s game at Indiana, they are 33-23 and solidly in sixth place in the NBA’s Western Conference.
Had they lost the games – and both felt like losses in the fourth quarter – they would be facing a streak of eight losses in nine games with four games remaining on a road trip. It would have been a free fall.
The two close wins kept Warriors fans out of the panic closet.
• • •
I’m again enjoying the best purchase I make each year – the MLB.com subscription to baseball radio broadcasts. It costs less than $20 and gives me access to home and road audio of every game – as well as archives.
Don’t tell the MLB people, but I’d pay more.
Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.