Pagan perpetuates Mays legend; Zito throws heat

Saturday, Sept. 15

PHOENIX — Willie Mays remains an enduring natural resource for the Giants. Just ask Angel Pagan.

Pagan made a running catch of Justin Upton’s second-inning fly to center field Saturday that recalled some of the great grabs Mays made during his singular career. As Pagan revealed, this wasn’t a coincidence. He has seized upon the presence of the legendary Mays, who annually visits Spring Training and attends many Giants home games, to learn more about outfield play.

“His advice has been very encouraging,” Pagan said after the Giants’ 3-2 victory over Arizona.

Pagan began sponging up Mays’ knowledge early during the Cactus League season. As he related, he misplayed a ball in deep center. “The next morning,” Pagan said, “the first person I saw was Willie Mays. ‘Hey, I want to talk to you.’ “

Mays, who won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves (1957-68) for fielding excellence, advised Pagan to begin his pursuit of such fly balls at full speed, then decelerate. He reminded Pagan that the less his head moves while he runs, the easier it is to focus on the ball and make the catch.

As the season has unfolded, Pagan relishes being told, “Willie wants to see you,” then going to clubhouse manager Mike Murphy’s office to receive more tutelage from the master.

“I like it,” Pagan said with a gleaming, grateful smile. “I don’t consider myself a genius in baseball, so I have to learn as much as I can.”

He didn’t need to add the obvious — that Willie Mays is a baseball genius.

*****

Whether manager Bruce Bochy includes Barry Zito in the postseason starting rotation probably will depend on which team the Giants face.

If San Francisco confronts the Braves, against whom Zito excels, he’ll likely be included. Should the Giants oppose the Reds, his chances are slimmer, particularly if the vacancy for which he’s considered is a game at Cincinnati’s
Great American Ball Park. He has compiled a 6.10 ERA in six starts there.

Though Bochy refuses to discuss any postseason-related issues at this time, he did indicate that he holds Zito in higher esteem than he ever has. “He’s throwing the ball as well as anybody right now,” Bochy said after the Giants’ 3-2 victory.

Zito amplified that statement by firing an 86-mph fastball past Upton for a strikeout that ended the sixth inning. Everybody knows that Zito’s fastball travels at below-average velocity. Though 86 is still on the slower end of the fastball spectrum, that’s searing speed by Zito’s standards.

“Sometimes the adrenalin can give you an extra mile an hour or two,” he said.

Chris Haft

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