Zito humbly accepts AL monthly honor
A's lefty named Pitcher of the Month with 6-0 record in July
MINNEAPOLIS -- A's lefty Barry Zito will tell you over and over that wins are overrated. Look at a pitcher's ERA, innings pitched and his opponents' batting average, he'll tell you. Those are the numbers that matter, because those are the numbers that a pitcher truly controls.
"Everything else, there's outside variables," he said Wednesday.
He said this while discussing one of the spoils of his outstanding July, in which he posted brilliant numbers across the board: Zito, who went 6-0 with a 2.51 ERA and a .200 opposing batting average while averaging more than seven innings per start, was named the American League's Pitcher of the Month for the third time in his career.
"It's pretty sweet," he said. "Not so much for me, even though it's an individual award, but I see it as being a great team award in a way. If I put up the same numbers but had a 3-3 record or something like that, someone with more wins would get the award. But I got a lot of runs, so I got the wins, and there's no way I win six games if the offense didn't just crush opposing pitchers."
Zito won the award in August and September of 2001 but didn't win it at all on the way to his 2002 Cy Young Award.
"They're all special," he said. "It's a huge honor. But at the same time, I'd just as soon have no focus on any one individual on this team. We're all special in here, and what we've done the past couple of months overshadows anything any one guy has done."
Such comments, A's manager Ken Macha suggested, underscore Zito's commitment to the leadership role into which he was thrust when fellow aces Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder were traded in the offseason. The last member of the "Big Three" remaining in Oakland, Zito, 27, is the oldest and most experienced member of the A's starting rotation.
"Some people might have wondered how Barry, who has this reputation for being a little bit 'out there,' would handle being a leader," Macha said. "But he's been tremendous from the first day of Spring Training, and the most impressive thing about him has been the way he handled the early part of the season."
Thanks in part to a frustrating outing in his second start of the year -- way back on April 9 at Tampa Bay, when he gave up eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings -- and a stunning lack of run support in the first two months of the season, Zito started the 2005 campaign at 1-6 with a 4.85 ERA.
"That's when you saw his growth as a leader," Macha said. "He never got down, never complained about not getting runs, never felt sorry for himself. He was always upbeat, pulling for other guys, being a positive presence in the dugout and in the clubhouse.
"It's easy to do those things when you're the Pitcher of the Month. The real measure of your character comes when things aren't going your way."
As recently as June 17, when he lost to the Phillies, Zito was 3-8 with a 4.66 ERA. But the A's had scored a total of seven runs in those eight losses, and A's catcher Jason Kendall said the numbers were a poor reflection of Zito's performance to that point.
"He had that one bad start in Tampa that blew up his ERA, but other than that, he's been awesome," Kendall said. "I get asked almost every day, 'What's behind Barry's turnaround from the first half?' It's crazy. I'm sick of it. He's been great all year. It hasn't just been this month."
Zito went 1-2 in May, but his ERA was a solid 3.49. In June he went 3-2 with a 3.05 ERA. Now he's 10-8 overall with a 3.72 ERA and an AL-best .223 opponents' batting average. And when he takes the mound Thursday in the finale of a four-game series with the Twins, he'll be looking for his eighth consecutive win.
"I feel like I've been pretty consistent, despite the perception out there that I [stunk] in the first half," he said. "But if people want to think that, that's cool. The people I worry about are in our clubhouse."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.