10/01/2003 9:22 PM ET
A's try for two behind Zito
Southpaw excited to take the mound in the postseason
OAKLAND -- For Barry Zito, the year after his first Cy Young campaign was a 35-start lesson in pitching with a target on his back.
By Kent Schacht / MLB.com
After a 23-5 season in 2002 during which he became the youngest pitcher since Roger Clemens to win the prestigious award, Zito finished 2003 with a disappointing 14-12 record, seeming to miss most of the breaks he received in his award-winning season.
"I learned a lot of lessons coming off a Cy Young year," he said. "You deal with so many things mentally when you get an award like that."
He's had to deal mentally with increased expectations from his first pitch in Oakland's second game against Seattle to his final toss of the season last week at Safeco Field. Lack of run support and a few more walks made seemingly each one of his starts a struggle.
With his record hopping back and forth across the .500 mark from July until a 3-1 September, Zito admitted throughout his fourth Major League campaign that he lost confidence at times in his stuff and in himself.
"His walks were up and he was beating himself as compared to having the other team beat him," A's manager Ken Macha said.
Zito concurred, noting that he changed his approach -- trying to not make good pitches, but to not make bad pitches.
"That's something I had fallen in the trap of doing at certain points of the year, trying to be too fine, trying to nitpick," he said. "When you just say, ‘OK, expletive-it (sic), I'm going to go out there and do my thing, that's when you do it."
In September, Zito did that for the most part, pitching very well in four of his six starts to post a 3.18 ERA. That has Zito feeling just right heading into his Game 2 start on Thursday.
"The last three or four starts, he's gotten much more aggressive, he's gotten his walks down and therefore, he's pitched better," Macha said.
He's also gotten beyond what Macha characterized as a battle with the past.
"I dealt with a lot of things, I learned a lot this year, and still turned out to have an OK year. We're
back in the playoffs, I'm right where I want to be now and I've learned so much."
-- Barry Zito
"Talking to him, I think he was concerned a little bit with defending the award that he had last year instead of being aggressive and going out and pitching his game," Macha said.
"I dealt with a lot of things, I learned a lot this year, and still turned out to have an OK year," Zito said. "We're back in the playoffs, I'm right where I want to be now and I've learned so much.
"I'm grateful for this year."
This October, Zito also finds himself in an unfamiliar, but welcome, position. In his first three big-league seasons, he got just one crack at a postseason start. As the A's Game 2 starter this season, he may get to pitch in a possible Game 5 on three days’ rest -- something he'd be eager to do.
"It's nice now to know that I'll get two shots to pitch in the playoffs," he said. "In the last three years, I've gotten only one shot. It's pretty exciting. But I just have to focus on the first game before I focus on Game 5."
Kent Schacht is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.