OAKLAND (AP) — Barry Zito had returned home from a minor league season ready to turn his attention from baseball to his other love, music, perhaps for good.
Now, he will make one more start from a big league mound while opposing close friend and former teammate Tim Hudson.
The baseball-crazed Bay Area is getting its Hudson vs. Zito matchup on Saturday as so many hoped. And it could be the last hurrah for the two former Athletics pitchers.
Zito, who spent the entire season with Triple-A Nashville before his callup last week, might be able to throw around 50 pitches in his first — and, perhaps, last — major league start this year. Or ever.
“It’s icing,” the 37-year-old Zito said Tuesday after a throwing session and visit to the training room. “I came to peace with the fact that Omaha was my last start. I had an inning on the Sunday game. Monday was our last game. The team threw me a little party, we had a baseball piñata in there and a champagne shower, because I was thinking this probably would be it. I never came out officially (to retire) and obviously still kind of seeing what happens. I was hanging out at home. I definitely didn’t think this was going to happen. This is all bonus, like triple-bonus situation right now.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin told Zito on Tuesday that he would start against Hudson and the San Francisco Giants for Saturday afternoon’s game at the Coliseum. Melvin and general manager Billy Beane had discussed the possibility with Zito already.
“How many different reasons can you think of? Our fans, first and foremost ... it will be a terrific day, with Hudson pitching on the other side,” Melvin said. “Really and truly he deserves it, based on what he did this year in Triple-A, what he’s meant to this organization. To get him out one more time in our ballpark against the Giants with our fan base, their fan base and Tim Hudson on the mound, it’s going to be a very exciting day.”
It will be the left-hander’s first start since Sept. 29, 2013, when he wrapped up a $126 million, seven-year contract with the Giants. He took 2014 off to build himself for a comeback attempt.
Zito will say hello to his former manager, Bruce Bochy, and the team on Friday.
“I’ll be their mortal enemy on Saturday and then I’ll probably be their friend again on Sunday,” Zito said.
“It’s going to be a really great experience regardless of what happens, being out there part of Huddy’s last few weeks,” said Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with the A’s. “It’s going to be awesome. I think the fans deserve something like that, some closure from those early years, all that fun we had.”
Oakland plans to honor its former “Big Three” trio of Hudson, Zito and Mark Mulder in a pregame ceremony Sunday, when they will throw out the ceremonial first pitches as a group. Three sellouts are expected for the weekend series.
“It’s definitely going to be rowdy out here,” Zito said. “I can’t be a fan that day, I’ve got to still be a player.”
The 40-year-old Hudson plans to retire after the season, and Zito might join him in calling it a career.
They both cherish the way the “Big Three” dominated beginning in 2000, making up one of baseball’s best 1-2-3 starting trios.
“When you’re in the middle of something you usually don’t know how special it is until you’re away from it to reflect,” Zito said. “It definitely was special. To have three homegrown guys it’s pretty rare.”
A’s third base coach Ron Washington will cherish the memories dating back more than a decade.
“I thought they were the best three in the business at the time,” said Washington, back for a second stint with the club this year. “You couldn’t imagine the things that they would say when they came off the field, ‘Just get me one run and I’ll make it stand up,’ and they’d make it stand up. ‘Get me two runs and I’ll make it stand up,’ and they would make it stand up. I think they fed off each other. Huddy was the smallest of the three and he was a tough character.
“I remember one time Mark Mulder throwing a fireworks night game and he did it in an hour and something, and the fans had to sit in the stands ‘til dark and I was at home eating. That’s how good they were. Barry Zito had this changeup and this breaking ball that would fall off the table. More than anything they were fierce competitors.”