Zito and Hudson mark end of an era

Saturday could have been Barry Zito and Tim Hudson’s final outings. One last hurrah.

Two storied major league pitchers going out one more time. And though their cameos showed men do not always age gracefully, it was still a sight to behold, though, as the pair marked the end of an era.

Hudson lasted 1-1/3 innings and Zito lasted only two. They combined for 82 pitches in just over three innings, seven runs, four walks and no strikeouts.

It’s not 2002 anymore.

It was still fun for all, though, particularly a packed house that gave the two standing ovations as their days concluded, chants of “Barry, Barry” or “Huddy, Huddy” filling the aural cavities of thousands.

Said Hudson:

“It was awesome. You know, classy fans on both sides of The Bay here. Obviously things didn’t work out the way we wanted with our performances, but the fans were awesome. They really showed their appreciation.”

A’s players conducted pre-game activities with their pant legs rolled up to their knees, honoring Zito, and Giants players wore No. 17 jerseys, honoring Hudson.

The pitcher said:

“I walked in, and they were a good looking group. These guys, over the last week or so, have really gone out of their way to make things pretty special for me.”

Hudson and Zito pitched together on the A’s from 2000 until 2004 as the most dominant front end of any rotation in baseball at that time. Hudson was actually drafted by the A’s twice, the first in the 35th round of the 1994 amateur draft and again in the sixth round of the 1997 draft, when he signed a deal.

Photos by Jeffery Bennett/SFBay

Oakland traded him after the 2004 season, though, sending him to Atlanta for pitchers Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer, neither of whom won a single game for the A’s.

Hudson pitched for Atlanta from 2005 to 2013 before helping the Giants win a third World Series in five seasons.

Zito was drafted by the A’s only once, but not before two other American League West clubs tried first. The Mariners selected him in the 59th round of the 1996 draft and the Rangers selected him in the third round of the 1998 draft.

He didn’t sign.

The A’s selected him in the first round of the 1999 draft, and Zito moved up Oakland’s farm system like wildfire.

Amid three All-Star selections, along with the 2002 Cy Young award, Zito quickly became a fan favorite but hit free agency after the 2006 season.

He signed with the only other team he’d ever play for, the Giants, and his velocity began to decline rapidly.

Zito managed 10 wins or more in his first three seasons with the Giants, but his outings were not the dynamic and tantalizing showcases the Giants expected.

They looked a lot like Saturday.

Saturday’s 48-pitch outing was to be expected. Zito hasn’t tossed in a big league game since 2013. That doesn’t take away from the moment.

It’s magic, baseball’s ability to captivate and hold onto the hearts of those who spend their lives eating and breathing it, playing after school or after work; that seven-year-old who hits for his first cycle, the nine-year-old who records a strikeout during his first attempt toeing the rubber.

An ugly Saturday afternoon doesn’t properly showcase what the two once-dominant specimens did in Oakland more than 10 years ago.

A’s manager Bob Melvin had to step back and appreciate it. He clapped for Zito when he pulled the plug, Zito giving a long tip of the cap to the packed crowd.

The A’s got the best years of both Hudson and Zito, at a time when the club operated by drafting players and developing them. Much like the Giants do now.

And San Francisco got the worst of Zito, which could have been much worse in a place like the Coliseum, or in the American League with the designated hitter rule.

Hudson wasn’t expected to be dominant with the Giants. He was their fourth or fifth guy in a rotation flush with talent.

Saturday’s outing marks a time where both Bay Area baseball teams have to figure out how they will address a common problem. Neither have much for pitching now, while their rivals have it in heaps.

They will need to decide whether to develop or add players in free agency or by trade.

But that doesn’t bog down what Zito and Hudson mean for either franchise. Because they represent greatness for both clubs, and can always share championship stories and talk about their ascents from the minors to stardom.


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