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09/27/06 3:17 AM ET

Zito glad this season has meaning

Left-hander knows it could be his last time celebrating with A's

SEATTLE -- With the drenched clubhouse all but empty save the still-celebrating players and team personnel, every member of the A's formed a circle and started chanting, "Go Zito! Go Zito! Go Zito."

Having found the appropriate beats to bump out of the stereo, veteran lefty Barry Zito stepped into said circle and broke into the kind of jig you might find in a teen hip-hop flick.

The chants grew louder, and after about 30 seconds of watching Zito gyrate, all elbows and knees and rubber ankles, the players each shook whatever bottle was in their hands and fired a frothy salute at the man in the middle.

For four years a member of Oakland's vaunted Big Three, Zito is flying solo in every way now, heading back to the playoffs for the first time without Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder.

"I've thought about that a little bit the past week or so," Zito had conceded during the raucous rager that followed Tuesday's 12-3 victory over the host Mariners that gave the A's the American League West title. "I would never use the word 'satisfying' to describe the feeling of going to the playoffs without those guys because I love them and they're my brother, and I was bummed to see them go.

"But at the same time, it is pretty sweet, because a lot of people thought the end of the Big Three was the end of the A's as contenders. And to be part of the team that proved them wrong is very cool."

Going to the playoffs is always cool, of course. But for the first four years of his career, it's all Zito knew. Now he knows better.

"I remember when we went to the playoffs as a rookie, Randy Velarde pulled me aside and said, 'I want you to savor this. It doesn't happen all the time, so really enjoy this,'" Zito recalled. "And I totally got what he was saying, or at least I thought I did. But then we went to the playoffs the next three years, too, and I'm like, 'Whatever, bro.'

"But then we missed out in 2004, and then we trade Mulder and Huddy, and we miss out in 2005. All of a sudden, I really understood what he was saying. So that's why this one might mean a little more. It really doesn't have anything to do with Mulder and Huddy."

It does, however, have a little bit to do with Zito's having come to terms with the notion that this is likely his last season with the A's. He's a free agent this winter, and Oakland general manager Billy Beane has repeatedly suggested that Zito will be out of his club's price range.

"Definitely a factor," Zito admitted. "If this is going to be my last go-round in green and gold, I wanted it to end with intensity and meaning, with pride and passion. And that's what going to the playoffs means.

"It means if I'm going out, I'm going out in a battle with all these great guys who made my time here so enjoyable. And that's just an amazing thing to me."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.