Making the final appearance of his Giants tenure and very possibly the last of his 14-year career, Zito struck out Mark Kotsay to end San Diego's half of the eighth, enabling the left-hander to experience one more stirring moment as he basked in the crowd's adulation.
The event reflected the evolution of Zito's relationship with Giants fans. They booed him heavily as he struggled in the early years of his seven-year, $126 million contract. But he became a hero last year, when he finished 15-8 and won two big postseason games as the Giants surged to their World Series triumph.
"It's a lot to take in," said Zito, 35. "It'll probably be a gradual absorption process."
Zito started against the Dodgers last Wednesday night and won, but manager Bruce Bochy wanted him to experience the thrill of pitching once more. He informed Zito that he'd try to insert him for a matchup this weekend against Kotsay, a left-handed batter.
Fans cheered in anticipation when Zito jogged to the bullpen to warm up. When the eighth arrived, and Bochy left the dugout with two outs and nobody on base to remove Heath Hembree, the AT&T Park crowd began roaring before the Giants skipper even beckoned Zito from the bullpen.
"That was more adrenaline than the World Series," Zito said. "It was difficult to control myself throwing in the bullpen. I was missing high the whole time. The hardest part of this game when it gets like that is containing the emotions. I had to fine-tune everything I was throwing."
Zito succeeded. He slipped two called strikes past Kotsay, who then fouled off a curveball. Never known for his overpowering stuff, Zito threw a fastball past a swinging Kotsay. The AT&T Park throng erupted in cheering and applause.
"I'll never forget that -- the 84 [mph] sneaky fastball," Zito said.
Zito doffed his cap and waved to the adoring crowd before entering the dugout. Urged by his teammates, he re-emerged and patted his chest with his left hand, a gesture meant to convey his identification with the crowd's feelings.
Zito was moved by the Giants' insistence for him to leave the dugout and acknowledge the cheers even more.
Said Zito, "This game is all about, 'What do your peers think of you?' ... When your peers respect you in that manner, there's nothing that's more validating as a player."
Kotsay, a teammate of Zito's in Oakland who played his final game Sunday, shared that regard for Zito.
"If I had to strike out in my final at-bat, I'm glad it was against a former teammate whom I respect and love," Kotsay said. "I'm happy for Barry. It was a special moment for both of us. I texted him and he responded. He said, 'Man, that was gnarlier than the World Series. I love you my brother. i have so much respect for you. I love that it was us together out there. See you soon.'"