Barry Zito

Why Barry Zito is suspected of being The Rhino on 'The Masked Singer'

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AP

Why Barry Zito is suspected of being The Rhino on 'The Masked Singer'

Where in the world is Barry Zito?

Well, the former Giants and A's pitcher just might be on your television set.

During Wednesday night's episode of "The Masked Singer" on FOX, Zito's name began trending on Twitter.

A coincidence? Possibly. But it sure seems like there's more to it.

One of the show's contestants is known as "The Rhino", for the corresponding costume he wears. While his voice has intentionally been distorted, the clues provided by The Rhino about their own identity sure do make it sound like Zito could be the one inside the costume.

Let's see ...

He refers to himself as a gentle giant. Which NL team did Zito pitch for, again?

There's a prominent placement of a pitcher of iced tea; he was a pitcher, after all.

The guitar? Self-explanatory.

Remember that time Zito dyed his hair blue? That might explain the blue wig.

The butterflies on the handlebars? Zito once wrote a song titled, 'Butterflies."

"Just a bit outside?" Come. On.

And if that doesn't confirm it for you, perhaps this will:

"You and I are on the same track, literally," The Rhino told singer and judge Robin Thicke.

Hmm ...

Remember Zito's song, "Butterflies?" Well, it's featured on the soundtrack of the 2012 movie, "A Thousand Words," starring Eddie Murphy. You know who else sings a song on that soundtrack?

That would be Thicke.

[RELATED: What Bochy remembers about Zito's Coors Field shutout]

Coincidence?

I think not.

Typically, one contestant is eliminated per week, at which time his or her identity is revealed. The Rhino survived Wednesday's episode and seems to be one of the favorites, so it might be a bit longer until we can confirm our suspicions.

What Bruce Bochy remembers about Barry Zito's shutout at Coors Field

What Bruce Bochy remembers about Barry Zito's shutout at Coors Field

On the final day of spring training in 2012, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti stood a few feet from Scottsdale Stadium's bullpen mound in nice slacks, a blazer and dress shoes. He watched silently as Barry Zito went through a bullpen session in a stadium that was otherwise nearly completely cleaned out.

Zito was lost, stuck in a desperate search to find a fix. A few months earlier, he had contemplated walking away from one of the richest deals in MLB history. A few days earlier, he had been sent to pitch in a minor league game because that was the only place the staff could guarantee that Zito would get his pitch count up without getting hit so hard he had to get pulled from a game. 

Had young lefty Eric Surkamp stayed healthy that spring, perhaps the Giants would have gone in a different direction entirely. But they had no choice but to slide Zito back into their rotation, and he got the ball for the fourth game of the season. The Giants had lost their first three and were playing at Coors Field. They started a pitcher who had given up 32 hits and 17 runs in 19 1/3 innings that spring. 

It was a recipe for disaster -- and then Zito went out and threw a shutout.

"Don't think anybody saw the complete game shutout coming so early in the season, especially in Colorado," manager Bruce Bochy said via text Thursday. "The manager got to sleep that night."

The win was an early pivot point for a team that would go on to win the World Series in part because of Zito's postseason heroics. A losing streak to start a year can put any group of talented players in a funk, and Bochy knew how important that game was. In the years that followed, he often talked about it as being a key day for that 2012 group. 

"You hate to start the season 0-3 as it's magnified so much," he said Thursday. "I'm thinking we need to win a game for the squad coming off three straight tough losses for their psyche. Now I have a fly ball pitcher going in Colorado so I'm expecting a high scoring game and the bullpen getting usage after a lot of work the first three games. His game stopped our tough streak, saved our pen and brought sanity in the early go. His nice mix of high fastballs and curveballs out of the same slot was a thing of beauty."

[RELATED: Giants sign 16-year-old prospect who's compared to Tatis Jr.]

NBC Sports Bay Area will air the Zito shutout at 8 p.m. on Thursday night. Zito talked about that performance while appearing on the Giants Insider Podcast last year, and he noted that it's a game he almost didn't pitch for reasons nobody knew about at the time. 

After being left off the postseason roster in 2010 and struggling with injuries in 2011, Zito almost retired before the 2012 season. 

"I was very close to walking away," he said. "Thank God I didn't. That was such a special year."

Giants of this decade: What it was like covering 2012, 2014 title runs

Giants of this decade: What it was like covering 2012, 2014 title runs

At some point, I realized I didn't really remember two weeks of 2012. 

The 2012 Giants team was the first I covered as a beat writer, and when that magical run was over, people often asked me what I did once I got back from Detroit. I couldn't really tell them. I covered the parade, and after that I don't really remember anything about my life until about Thanksgiving.

I know I got really sick for a few days. I think I probably slept 14 hours a night. I can guess that I probably ordered a lot of Mexican food and watched Fast and the Furious sequels on TBS, but I don't really know. 

The postseason is unbelievably draining physically and mentally for players. For reporters, it's simply a blur, a daily battle to get to a new city, make all the media availabilities, cancel that flight to Chicago you no longer need, get one of the chicken pesto sandwich boxes before your fellow reporters eat them all, and try to catch a few hours of sleep when you can.

It's a grind, which is probably why the Chronicle's Henry Schulman gave me some good advice when the Giants were about to clinch in 2012: "Take a day or two off after they clinch, because you never know how long this will last." 

I didn't listen.

I was young and dumb and full of energy, and to be honest I never thought I would be standing there in Detroit on Oct. 28. That probably explains why my brain shut down in November. 

So what did I do after covering my first title team? I have no idea. But I do remember everything the Giants did during the latter two title runs, and when I was asked to write about the decade the franchise just had, these are memories that came flooding back ... 

Cincinnati 

In the spring of 2013, I was sitting in the dugout with a veteran Giant and I asked him what he really thought was going to happen as Sergio Romo and Jay Bruce had an epic 11-pitch at-bat. Romo had told reporters that he got through that moment in part by looking around and seeing the confidence his teammates had in him. The player laughed.

"To be honest," he said. "I thought Bruce was going to hit it in the f------ river."

That was the thing about Romo, though. He'll never get enough credit for what a remarkable career he's had. In-person, it's amazing how slight he is, and it shouldn't make sense that a right-hander with that kind of velocity was staring down the Reds and later closing out a World Series. But he had that slider, and as Johnny Cueto would say, he always had the coconuts.

St. Louis

I still have no idea how Barry Zito did it.

There were a lot of stunning moments during those Octobers, but Game 5 of the 2012 NLCS is at the top for me. That spring, I hung around Scottsdale Stadium as camp broke and watched Zito throw an emergency bullpen session in front of Dave Righetti, who was wearing a suit and standing in the dirt in his dress shoes because the flight home was about to take off. 

Zito was completely lost. He would have lost his rotation spot if Eric Surkamp had stayed healthy. And seven months later he's keeping the Giants alive? 

I have no idea how that happened, but when I think back to the 2012 NLCS, I'm always reminded of the fourth game of that season. Zito was in the rotation because the Giants didn't have another option, but in his first start, he went out and threw a shutout at Coors Field. Afterward, a team official told Bruce Bochy the media was ready for him. 

"They are? I figured they had all passed out," Bochy cracked. 

It was probably at that point that we should have known 2012 would be special. 

Detroit

It's a mess when a team wins a World Series. The clubhouse is full of players, coaches, MLB officials, family, friends, and dozens of reporters and cameras. In the middle of it all, I found an emotional Brian Sabean leaning up against a hallway wall. He looked spent. His eyes were red and there was a drink in his hand. But his message was clear.

"He's a Hall of Fame manager," Sabean said of Bochy. "Enough said."

Pittsburgh

I'll never forget how quiet it got. PNC Park was absolutely rocking, but by the time Brandon Crawford rounded second base, all you could hear was the players cheering in the visiting dugout and their wives screaming a few rows back. It was like someone hit the mute button on an entire city.

Washington D.C. 

It was so cold in the Nationals Park press box that reporters were gathering in the bathroom between innings because that was the only spot with a heater. Sometime around the 14th inning, Andrew Baggarly turned on the hot dog roller in the press box dining room and the two of us warmed our hands with it before heading back to our seats to write. 

So thank you, Brandon Belt, for ending Game 2 when you did. 

That blast should have ended the Belt Wars, but some fans will never give Belt, who came back from a concussion to play in that postseason, his proper credit. An hour after that 18th inning, I found Belt standing with his family near a truck that was loading up the Giants' bags.

"I'm delirious," he said, smiling. "I'm just trying to soak it all in."

St. Louis

One of the coolest parts about covering the postseason is that reporters are let down onto the field during the trophy ceremonies, and those are some of my favorite interviews. I got to talk to Marco Scutaro a few minutes after the rain came, and Travis Ishikawa about 15 minutes after he became a legend. 

That's not what I remember about covering the Ishikawa Game, though. I'll never forget standing on the infield with a couple of other beat writers and asking Jake Peavy, "What were you thinking?!?" Peavy started laughing and explained his role in amazing detail:

[RELATED: What Bruce Bochy thinks of Madison Bumgarner leaving

Kansas City

No Giants fan will ever forget what Madison Bumgarner did, and I don't think we'll ever see something close to that again. But when I was told I needed to write a personal piece about the last decade, I didn't immediately think of Bumgarner or Bochy or Ishikawa.

My first thought was of Matt Duffy.

Duffy was a rookie in 2014 and got just six at-bats during that title run, but as national reporters descended on the Giants, I found myself talking to the 23-year-old infielder before just about every game. When the Giants came out to stretch and take BP, Duffy always had the biggest smile on his face. Before Game 7, I was standing on the field when Duffy walked up and took it all in. He pretty much summed up the decade with just four words.

"How cool is this?" he said.