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As spectator, Zito joins in Giants' celebration

As spectator, Zito joins in Giants' celebration

ARLINGTON -- A grey World Series champions T-shirt hastily thrown over his black Giants hoodie, Barry Zito dug into the nearby red cooler.

He pulled out a bottle of Mumm champagne, popped the cork, took a step back and found third baseman Pablo Sandoval and 28-year-old reliever Eugenio Velez by his side. Zito raised the bottle. He nudged his two teammates. And then he stole the words from Queens' one-time hit and led them into song.

"We are the champions. We are the champions ... of the world."

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If you had any doubt, any uncertainty about what this meant to Zito -- who, after pocketing $18.5 million this season, didn't throw a single pitch all postseason -- just consider the pronoun he belted out in song.

Yep. No matter what you might say about his contract or the regression in results or his plethora of idiosyncrasies, Zito was willingly taking ownership of a piece of this championship.

"In this moment right now, it's just about enjoying it," said Zito, this time standing alone in a corner of the plastic-draped clubhouse, observing the celebration that followed the Giants' 3-1 win over the Rangers on Monday. "I'm putting my personal situation aside. I'm on this team and have been on this team for four years. I'm enjoying the [heck] out of this."

Don't misconstrue those words, though, to assume that Zito didn't care about being a spectator. A pitcher who had missed just one start since making his Major League debut in July 2000, Zito didn't know what it was like to be told not to pitch.


And yet, he was told that three times in October, each time passed over as manager Bruce Bochy crafted his series rosters.

"It was tough," Zito admitted. "But whatever role I'm given, I have integrity in myself and try to do the best I can. Whatever contribution I could make aside from pitching, it's all bonus."

Ask around and you'll find out the contributions were innumerable.

It started by example, explained pitching coach Dave Righetti, who pointed to a simulated game last week as the only evidence needed.

In front of no one but his pitching coach and a handful of unobservant teammates, Zito took the mound at AT&T Park and started pitching. Because the lefty was the club's insurance if injury struck anyone in the rotation, the Giants had asked him to stay sharp. He willingly obliged.

Righetti wasn't surprised at what he saw, though the affirmation of what he thought he already knew about his workhorse starter was nonetheless inspiring.

"He went after it like it was the seventh game of the World Series," Righetti said. "There's nobody in the stands. He could easily laugh with his teammates. He pitched it really, really hard. Like a game.

"I wish my other guys were there."

Zito's teammates may not have witnessed the left-hander's final side session of 2010, but they've already seen enough. They have watched the veteran starter log at least 180 innings each of the four seasons he pitched for San Francisco, never finding an excuse not to take the ball.

"These other guys, I think they know that," Righetti said. "That puts pressure on you, too, as a teammate. He's worth every penny because of that."

That's a bold statement to pin on a pitcher whose $126-million contract has often been labeled as one of the worst in baseball history. The thing is, Righetti isn't the only one to find value separate of results.

"He never left us," starter Jonathan Sanchez noted. "It was important to have him around."

"I think with his experience he has influenced our younger pitchers really with his work ethic and how he goes about his business," Bochy added. "I'll say this about Barry: he's been great through all this."

Aside from spending time staying sharp, Zito offered his brain to be picked. He became the team's biggest cheerleader. It's biggest believer, too.

"I live and die with them," Zito said. "Rooting for them was no challenge at all."

This, of course, comes from a man once inked to be the face of a franchise. From a man who made $1.75 million more than the four starters combined who took the ball this the postseason. From a man who, not that long ago, was touted as the one that would lead San Francisco to this point.

In a way, though, he still feels like he did.

Without Zito's stellar start to the season, it's unlikely that the Giants would have even gotten here. San Francisco was victorious in seven of Zito's first 11 outings, a string of starts in which the lefty posted a 2.78 ERA.

Zito's results tumbled soon after. But it was partially because of that early success that the Giants sat in position to overtake the Padres during the final weeks of the season.

And yet, Zito didn't need anyone to remind him of his contributions. He didn't need to justify his sipping of champagne by pointing to his mentorship or his presence or his past. This was to be as much his celebration as anyone else, whether you felt it should have been or not.

"At this point now, I'm just going to enjoy it and have no shame," Zito said. "I don't care what people think. I'm going to suck this in.

"I have the ring."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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