Zito’s a harsh self-critic; Wilson loves the challenge

SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Zito received a warm ovation from the AT&T Park fans upon leaving Saturday’s game once he walked Wladimir Balantien to open the seventh inning. But while Zito might have impressed observers, he sounded anything but impressed with himself.

Zito called his outing “a grind,” though his statistical line might suggest that he cruised through Cincinnati’s lineup in the Giants’ 4-2 victory. The left-hander allowed both Reds runs and only three hits in six innings. Zito, who’s 3-1 with a 2.32 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, has walked nine and struck out 25 in 31 innings in that span.

Zito meant that his results didn’t come easily. Manager Bruce Bochy, of course, was thrilled that Zito delivered, extra effort or no extra effort. Bochy pointed out that Zito has been the Giants’ “tough-luck pitcher” this year, having entered Saturday’s start with the Major Leagues’ lowest run support.

“I think he’s throwing the ball better than his record indicates,” Bochy said. “He has been exceptional this last month. He’s throwing strikes and pitching with a lot of confidence right now.”

Zito has won three consecutive decisions for the first time since May 23-June 4, 2007, his first couple of months as a Giant.

*****

A temporarily overlooked element of Brian Wilson’s blown save and loss Friday night was the simple fact that Bochy summoned him with the bases loaded and one out in the EIGHTH inning. Though Wilson has converted a National League-high seven saves of more than one inning, each of those was a 1 1/3-inning stint. Had he saved Friday’s game, his 1 2/3-inning outing would have been his longest of the season in a save opportunity. He pitched 2 1/3 innings in a 10-inning victory April 22 against San Diego and two innings July 17 in a 14-inning loss at Pittsburgh. Both were scoreless performances.

Second-guessing managers for using their closer for more than one inning is a favorite fan pastime. But Bochy hasn’t hesitated to insert Wilson in the eighth inning, and he won’t hesitate to do so again in the future.

“The game’s on the line,” Bochy said. “That’s where you want your closer.”

Speaking after he recorded his 28th save of the season in Saturday’s victory, Wilson said that entering games in the eighth inning is OK with him.

“They obviously have confidence in me to come in and shut the door,” Wilson said. “I’m not going to complain about that, because what’s the team going to think about a guy who complains about pitching? I play this game for the love of it. Any chance I get to pitch is a good chance.”

In a remark that bordered on a Yogi Berra-ism, Wilson added, “If you’re going to come in the ninth, you might as well come in the eighth, too.”

– Chris Haft

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