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Note to Zito: Be wary of Barry

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

SAN FRANCISCO – It is a commendable endeavor undertaken by Barry Zito, signing with the San Francisco Giants and proceeding directly to Barry Bonds' corner, in all manners.

His request for the locker nearest Bonds' was granted, so together they reside along one wall in the Giants' clubhouse, two lockers each, along with one large TV. Zito proposed their bond, lending his unconditional friendship, clean image and, as another sizeable Bay Area personality, slight relief from the relentless local and national glare.

Maybe, for $126 million, he figured the Giants deserved more than an every-fifth-day pitcher, even a very good one.

Maybe he's simply harbored sympathetic feelings toward Bonds, believing he'd been ambushed and wrongly accused and forced to wear the colors of an entire era of ballplayers.

Maybe he thought it the best way to win games, assuming a happy, unbothered Bonds was the Giants' most productive hitter. In any given at-bat, there is none more productive, even at 42, even on half-a-leg, even while carrying all that he carries.

Regardless, Zito, the new guy with the duty of being the face of the franchise long after Bonds is gone, stuck out his hand and smiled sweetly and then promised to take his place between Bonds and whatever the two of them might confront.

To which you'd warn the well-meaning Zito: Be very careful.

See, Bonds already had a best friend. He's in prison.

There are plenty of people who have done their best for Bonds – and likewise, they certainly believed, for themselves – and had their situation become, let's say, somewhat less desirable, or at least somewhat less local.

His best workout partner, Gary Sheffield, was hauled into a grand jury hearing.

His best athletic trainer, Stan Conte, has moved to Los Angeles, and seems quite happy there.

His best supplement supplier, Victor Conte, spent a little time under house arrest and presumably is having some professional issues.

His best personal trainers, Harvey Shields and Greg Oliver, have been run out of the clubhouse and on Tuesday watched Bonds not from the dugout, but from field-level seats at AT&T Park.

His best career example, Hank Aaron, appears ambivalent at best that America's most sacred record will soon be Bonds'.

There've been agents and teammates and even the players' union who've ultimately wished for better from Bonds. But, one would think, Zito is savvy enough to stand close enough to be the good fellow Giant, but not so close as to risk contamination.

Yet, there was this. A month ago, Zito told MLB.com, "I'm certainly going to protect Barry. He'd protect me at whatever cost. I've learned that in the short time I've been around him. … I know all these beat writers. With me there, they won't be able to attack him as they would if they had Barry alone. They know they may have to answer to me, or might feel repercussions regarding interviews now. If he wanted me to blackball somebody, I'd probably do it."

That, right there, is some kind of teammate. Mark Sweeney was that kind of teammate, too, speaking gloriously of Bonds and his clubhouse influence in times of trouble, reportedly purchasing the glasses the players raised to toast Bonds' 715th home run, the one that passed Babe Ruth. Turned out, if you believe the New York Daily News, Sweeney became quite useful when Bonds tested positive for amphetamines.

Zito is a grown man, a rich one, and a seemingly grounded one. This, however, is a curious path, beginning now.

The Giants opened their season Tuesday afternoon under blue skies and somewhat light expectations, beyond the coming 22 home runs from Bonds and whatever storm that might attract.

Zito started and pitched five decent innings against the San Diego Padres and Bonds played left field, batted third, had one opposite-field single and one part-brilliant, part-screwy trip around the bases that ended badly. It is that vortex in which the Giants' season bobs, Zito leading the rotation and Bonds leading the offense and everybody else filling the gaps.

The Giants lost and lost thoroughly, 7-0, pushing two runners into scoring position, the first when Bonds stole second base in the first inning. Bonds singled to left – against an infield defense swung around toward right – and walked in four plate appearances. Throwing to catcher Bengie Molina, Zito allowed four hits and two earned runs, then was introduced to the National League part of the game when he was removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning, having thrown just 86 pitches.

Asked, generally speaking, if he were "disappointed" in his outing, Zito stared for a long time and responded, "What do you think?"

Bonds spoke briefly before Tuesday's game but left afterward without a word, leaving a swarm of reporters with only one Barry to address.

In that moment, as the Giants attempted to explain their opening day flop, Zito had only to look to his left. And he would have noted that he was on his own.