Urban: Zito shows Giants his hammer is strong


Urban: Zito shows Giants his hammer is strong

June 28, 2011


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Mychael Urban

All the talk about reconnecting with the game as it used to be, of re-learning to love it, of absorbing a familiar sense of kinship with the hard-working kids in the minors leagues, of focusing on the process and not results?Meaningless. Empty talk -- especially to fans who are very much into those pesky results. It's pretty simple: Throw a hammer like Thor and you're good.That's what Barry Zito did Tuesday at Wrigley Field, and that's why he looked like the Zito that the Giants were hoping they'd get when they paid him more money than mighty Thor himself made even in his best seasons with the Thunder.
RECAP: Zito returns triumphant; Giants extend win streak
Prior to that, of course, Zito did what Zito often does. Depending on how you feel about the man in general, you can characterize what he did as philosophizing, rhapsodizing, rationalizing or, let's face it, eulogizing.
In short, lots of talk about baseball being fun again, only in deeper-sounding sentences.But you know what's really fun? Locking up a big-league hitter with a curveball that starts somewhere in the upper deck and ends up nestled softly in the catcher's glove, then watching the guy's face contort in a non-verbal expression of "What in the name of all things flecked with gold and accompanied by a smoking-hot harp soloist was that?"Zito did plenty of that Tuesday, and when he's doing that, he's making his 85- to 88-mph fastball look, as Jason Giambi once said, "more like 99 or 100."The bender Zito was featuring while holding the Cubs to four hits and two walks over seven innings was the best he's thrown in the bigs in years.GIANTS INSIDER GALLERY: Zito helps Giants sweep DH
So what happened? What brought back Zito's curveball from the land in which hitters spit on it to the land in which they respect, fear and flail at it?Well, improved fastball command helps prevent the former. Pop a heater into the strike zone early, at any speed, and you're in control of the at-bat; the secondary pitches become a factor. Fall behind with the fastball, especially if it's not above-average, and the hitter can wait out those secondary pitches in search of something straight and somewhat slow. That's a recipe for disaster, and Zito has cooked up plenty of those as a Giant. But thanks to some minor mechanical tweaks, his fastball command improved considerably during his time in the minors. The major change in Zito, however, has been the ditching of his slider. He added the pitch after he won the American League Cy Young in 2002, and that speaks to his personality. He's of the mind that if you aren't trying to get better -- and that's what adding the slider was to him -- you're getting worse.An argument could be made that there isn't much to improve after going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA, but hey, that's how the guy thinks. Can't fault a guy's brain for working a certain way.He's no dummy, though, and he's never duplicated the Cy Young success since adding the slider. It's nearly impossible to throw a slider from a tradition over-the-top arm slot; by nature the pitch has to be released from something of an angle to, well, slide.Yet Zito's curveball, to achieve maximum effectiveness, has to be delivered from a traditional over-the-top arm slot. At it's best, it's a classic noon-to-six bender, and he spent his life perfecting it -- while throwing the other two pitches that helped him win the Cy, a fastball and changeup, from the exact same arm slot.So he canned the slider. Arm slot locked. And though it's taken a while to get the feel for that hammer of Thor, it's there now -- and you saw it Tuesday.

Cowboys expose 49ers' biggest weakness in bashing: Talent


Cowboys expose 49ers' biggest weakness in bashing: Talent

If there is such a thing as being “due” in sports (and there actually isn’t, so you can probably stop reading now), the San Francisco 49ers had Sunday coming to them.
After all, the anomaly of being the “best winless team in football” based on margin of defeat lasts only so long until the “winless” part trumps the “best” part, because even the Los Angeles Chargers – the previous “best bad team in football” – aren’t the Chargers all the time.
So it was that the Dallas Cowboys exposed every weakness the 49ers have with the simplest thing there is.
The Cowboys did everything they wanted, but only whenever they wanted it, in a 40-10 dope-slapping that could actually have been worse than it was. The 49er offense was properly stymied (again), gaining only 290 yards (4.5 yards per play) and the defense was thoroughly Elliotted (as in Ezekiel-ed, who averaged 8.1 yards in his 27 touches). San Francisco’s warts were rubbed until they glowed, and if not for the fact that head coach Kyle Shanahan already knew where they were, he’d have been shocked to see how visible they were.
And therein lies the takeaway from another day at Not-So-Great-America. It turns out that the 49ers weren’t very good at much of anything before Sunday except just how far away they are from what Shanahan and general manager John Lynch believe is their destiny. C.J.  Beathard remained the rookie quarterback he is, and Carlos Hyde's hard-won 68 rushing yards led to no scores. Indeed, San Francisco's only touchdown came on a four-yard improv sprint from Beathard, who is by no means a running quarterback except in abject flight.

Next week in Philadelphia figures to be no less grisly, if you’re waiting for that magic moment when “0” becomes “1.” That is, of course, unless Washington exposes the Eagles as less than what they seem, which is very often the case in the new parity-gripped NFL.

But there are subsequent get-well games at home against Arizona and then at New York against the Giants the week after, so whatever dreams you might have about them running the table backwards and getting the first overall pick in the draft are still light years from realization.
This is, however, another healthy reminder that the job to be done is at least two more years in the undoing before the doing can actually begin. Not that the players or coaches needed another lesson, mind you – they know.
But maybe you needed it, just to keep your delusions in check. Maybe the people who were “due” were all of you.
But that’s unfair, too. You didn’t undo this franchise. All you did was believe, and there’s nothing wrong with that – as long you know there will be more days like this before your team starts handing out the 40-10’s.
In the meantime, there is beer.

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 40-10 loss vs Cowboys


Three things you need to know from 49ers' 40-10 loss vs Cowboys

SANTA CLARA -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 40-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7 on Sunday:

1. A major step backward
So much for the 49ers’ somewhat-impressive streak of close losses.

There was nothing encouraging about what transpired in the 49ers' worst loss at Levi’s Stadium. It was also the franchise's worst home loss since Mike Singletary's team absorbed a 45-10 thumping against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 11, 2009.

Was there anything positive to take from this game?

“No, not right now,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It was disappointing. I think all three phases, players and coaches, we’ve got to play better than that, a lot better to give ourselves a chance to win.”

The competitive nature of the 49ers’ past five games was one thing. But with a big home loss on such an emotional day, it is fair to say that the honeymoon is over for Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. The 49ers looked like a team devoid of any leadership, and brings more scrutiny onto the organization’s decision last week to release linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

Now, the 49ers face a crossroads. With another cross-country trip ahead, the 49ers have to regroup in a hurry in order to avoid another embarrassing blowout against the Philadelphia Eagles.

2. Beathard’s first start
Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard certainly was not the reason the 49ers got blown out. In his first NFL start, he showed a lot of toughness, which was to be expected. He was sacked five times. But most of those sacks could have been avoided. He has to get rid of the ball quicker, especially on three-step drops.

Beathard also showed some promise, too. He let the ball fly deep for Marquise Goodwin, who caught four passes for 80 yards. Beathard completed 22 of 38 passes for 235 yards.

Beathard accounted for the 49ers’ only touchdown with a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. There seems to be little doubt it was in the best interest of the organization to begin evaluating what it has for the future with the permanent switch from Brian Hoyer to Beathard.

3. Dwight Clark’s Day
The 49ers, of course, did nothing to evoke any memories of the great teams on which Dwight Clark played. Well, they did look a lot like Clark’s first team with the 49ers.

The 49ers of 1979 lost their first seven games of the season. This year’s team matched that start for the worst beginning to a season in franchise history.

More than 35 of Clark’s teammates off the 1981 Super Bowl team were in attendance to honor a pay tribute to Clark, who is battling ALS. Now in a wheelchair and considerably lighter, Clark delivered some poignant remarks at halftime.

Clark, 60, told his old teammate, Keena Turner, who works as vice president of football affairs, that all he wanted was to see some of his old teammates.

“And the 49ers heard that and flew all these players in, so I could see them one more time,” Clark said.