Starting pitcher Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during a Major League Baseball game at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
This led the two teams to start pitchers they wouldn't normally consider using.
In the Cubs' case, that was Rodrigo Lopez, who they acquired about a month ago in a minor league deal from the Braves. Lopez had made one previous start and a number of relief appearances in blowouts. You know, the kind of pitcher major league managers used to keep around in the back of their bullpens.
And the Giants called on lefthander Barry Zito, just off the disabled list.
Barry Zito? Rodrigo Lopez? Did Mr. Peabody and Sherman show up at Wrigley Field Tuesday night with the Wayback Machine?
Apparently so, because these two pitchers, with a combined total of 22 big league seasons and 558 big league starts, met just once before, on May 21, 2002, when Lopez was a rookie with the Orioles and Zito was... well, he was very good then.
Unlike Tuesday night's matchup in Chicago, that nine-year-old game was a meeting between two of the top pitchers in the game. Lopez, with the Orioles, would finish second in Rookie of the Year voting (to Eric Hinske, of all people), and Zito won 23 games and the Cy Young Award. Randy Johnson won 24 that year, but no pitcher has won more since 2002.
On that long-ago May evening in Oakland, Zito departed having allowed four runs in six innings. Lopez threw better, giving up just one run in 6.1. Neither was around for the finish, a 14-inning, 4:36 marathon won by Baltimore 6-4. The teams went in opposite directions later that year -- Baltimore, at .500 in mid-August, pulled another of its disappearing acts, going 4-32 to finish the year, while the Athletics won the AL West before doing their usual playoff collapse.
Tuesday night, Zito flashed some of that Cy Young form, though some would say "it's just the Cubs". He gave up just four hits in seven innings and two runs, courtesy of a home run by Lou Montanez. Meanwhile, Lopez, who is playing out the string, struggled, and was the victim of a dropped throw by Geovany Soto, which helped open the floodgates for a five-run Giants inning that put the game away. Lopez has the third-highest ERA (4.86) of any starting pitcher since 2000 who has as many innings pitched as he does. (One of the other two is Ramon Ortiz, who is currently pitching for the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa team, which tells you about as much as you need to know about the state of the Cubs' pitching staff. The third is Sidney Ponson, enough said.)
The baseball Wayback Machine brought two other men from that game nine years ago to Wrigley Field, too. Cubs manager Mike Quade was the A's third-base coach in 2002. And Miguel Tejada, then the A's starting shortstop, doubled off Lopez in the 2002 game -- but sat out last night's nightcap, watching his then-and-now teammate, Zito, shut down the Cubs.
The Giants' pitching staff is already among the top staffs in the game, and the biggest reason San Francisco leads the NL West. If Zito can reclaim even some of his years-ago form, they just might be headed to the World Series again.