SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Zito was sitting in his car at a Los Angeles gas station in December of 2006 when his agent called. The Giants had offered $126 million over seven years. The A's left-hander was crossing the Bay Bridge, and he had just become the richest pitcher in baseball history.
When general manager Brian Sabean called, he told Zito that he might as well tattoo the astounding amount on his forehead.
"I didn't quite know what he meant," Zito said Wednesday, a smile creeping across his face. "But I found out."
Zito never lived up to the contract, although he can take solace in the fact that the Giants don't win a World Series title last fall without his contributions. He said that 95 percent of his time in San Francisco was great.
"The other five percent has been terrible," Zito said, laughing.
Wednesday's 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers was a bit of both. In his final start as a Giant, Zito earned his first win since May 30. But his final moments ended up being as unfulfilling for the home fans as the infamous contract.
Twice pulled from the rotation this season, the struggling left-hander was given a surprise start Wednesday after 22 days of inaction in the bullpen, ostensibly to allow Giants fans to say goodbye after seven up-and-down years. That never truly happened. Zito cruised through the fifth, giving up two runs -- only one earned -- as the Giants built a three-run lead. But when Zito returned to the dugout, manager Bruce Bochy pulled him for a pinch hitter. Bochy said he was concerned because Zito had not pitched in three weeks and was hit by a line drive early in the fifth inning.
"He did his job," Bochy said. "He was fighting me, but he did his job."
Zito and Bochy had a short discussion, and Zito could be seen hitting a Gatorade cooler as he walked toward the dugout stairs. He said he had hoped to stay in.
"There aren't a lot of chances for closure in sports," Zito said. "I felt great out there. I wanted to keep going. My last time in a Giants uniform, I wanted it to end in style."
For three innings, Zito had done his best to write a fairy-tale ending to a Giants career that never lived up to expectations. He was at his baffling best, mixing speeds, going in and out, up and down, never afraid to fall behind in the count. Yasiel Puig, the first batter to face Zito since Sept. 2, started the night by rolling over on a curveball right down the middle. Two batters later, Matt Kemp flied out gently to right.
Zito didn't allow a base runner or even a hard-hit ball through three and was given a 3-0 lead on Tony Abreu's bases-loaded triple in the second. The Dodgers stormed back in the fourth, coming a couple feet from tying the game when Kemp lined a shot off the top of the left field wall with two runners on. The Dodgers scored two in the frame, but Pablo Sandoval's two-run blast in the bottom of the inning gave Zito some breathing room.
In the fifth inning, Zito was hit on the left thigh by a Nick Punto liner, but he was unhurt and worked around the infield single. Zito, who had lost eight straight decisions, was charged with one earned run on four hits. No. 75 walked off the mound with a 5.75 ERA in what has been a disappointing season.
On Tuesday, that season took a positive turn. Bochy sent pitching coach Dave Righetti to find Zito and deliver a special bit of news: He would make one more start at AT&T Park.
"He was pumped," Bochy said.
So were Zito's rotation mates, particularly Tim Lincecum, who has turned to Zito while dealing with his own ups and downs.
"I can sympathize and empathize with him because of what I've been through, and seeing him always stick with it and never get discouraged was pretty special," Lincecum said. "Living up to expectations is one of those things that he hasn't really been trying to worry about. He's been trying to live up to his own, and those are usually harder for most people. He's found the inner peace that you kind of look for in this game."
The Giants will not pick up the $18 million option on Zito's deal, instead paying a $7 million buyout. Zito said he does not know what comes next, but he said he's at peace. He pitched 72/3 scoreless innings last October in St. Louis to keep the Giants alive in the NLCS. He gave up one run over 52/3 innings five days later, taking the win in Game 1 of the World Series. Those are the memories he cherishes.
"I knew it was going to be a heck of a ride," he said. "It's certainly been that."
L.A. Dodgers (Edinson Volquez 9-12) at Giants (Tim Lincecum 10-14), 7:15 p.m., CSNBA