Zito $18.5 Million Giants Liability as Series Opens

Barry Zito, once the highest-paid pitcher in Major League Baseball, has turned into an $18.5 million liability for the San Francisco Giants as they open the World Series tonight against the Texas Rangers.

Zito, 32, who accounted for almost 19 percent of the team’s $98.6 million payroll this season, won’t be on the roster for the third straight playoff series, the Giants announced today.

Zito’s salary this year is $3.5 million more than that of the Giants’ four-man starting rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner -- who combined to make about $15 million this season.

“We’ve made our mistakes, we’ll make more mistakes,” Giants Managing General Partner Bill Neukom said yesterday in an interview at his AT&T Park office. “We haven’t had the baseball return we wanted on that.”

Zito hasn’t had a winning season since he arrived in San Francisco, going 40-57 in four years. He was 9-14 this season and also was left off the 25-man roster for playoff series wins against the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.

The left-hander said yesterday in an interview that, if left off the roster, he would spend the World Series cheering on his teammates.

“You’ve got to be professional, you have to put your personal things aside and do what you can to help the team,” Zito said. “Moping around doesn’t help anyone.”

$126 Million Contract

Zito, who won the 2002 Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in the American League with a 23-5 record for the Oakland Athletics, received the biggest contract for a pitcher in baseball history at the time when he signed a $126 million, seven-year free-agent pact with the Giants before the 2007 season. The deal runs through 2013.

CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees ($161 million for seven years starting in 2009) and Johan Santana of the New York Mets ($137.5 million for six years starting in 2008) have since surpassed Zito’s contract.

Neukom said Zito’s signing was supposed to help the Giants move past the era in which Barry Bonds, the major league career home run record holder, was the team leader. Bonds’s last year with the team was 2007.

“All of us didn’t do a good enough job at making that transition,” Neukom said. “We signed (Zito) to bridge that gap.”

Home-Grown Starters

The Giants’ four World Series starters were drafted by the team and came up through its minor-league system -- the first time a team has used a quartet of home-grown starters in the World Series since the 1986 Boston Red Sox had Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd and Al Nipper.

“Everyone knows we kind of built around pitching and just more pitching on top of that,” Lincecum said yesterday in a news conference. “We built the starting rotation around guys who came up through the system and just understood it.”

Lincecum, who has won the past two Cy Young Awards as the National League’s best pitcher, will start tonight’s game. The Texas starter will be 2008 American League Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, who has a 7-0 postseason record with an earned run average of 1.26.

Game 2 is set for tomorrow night in San Francisco, weather permitting. The National Weather Service predicts a 40 percent chance of rain in the afternoon and a 50 percent chance at night. The game is scheduled to start at 4:57 p.m. local time.

Rangers Are Favored

Matt Cain is scheduled to start for the Giants in Game 2 against the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson. An off-day is scheduled for Oct. 29 before the best-of-seven series shifts to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

The Rangers, playing in the World Series for the first time in the franchise’s 50-year history, are the 5-6 favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton to win the championship. They’ve never won in nine games at AT&T Park and haven’t defeated the Giants in seven games overall dating to 2001.

The Giants haven’t won the World Series since 1954, when they were based in New York.

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