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10/09/06 7:25 PM ET

Barry Zito off-day interview

Barry, Polanco on their team has had a lot of success against you. Can you describe how -- like how important you think he is in their offense and why he presents so many problems?

BARRY ZITO: I think he's a catalyst for them. He's a guy similar to a lot of leadoff hitters for teams. He's a two-hole hitter. But he's a guy that he just finds a way to put the sweet spot on the ball, and when he does that, he'll hit doubles in the gap, little flares. He finds a way to get on base. He's definitely a threat. I think if he's on base most times, their team is in a position to win.

How important is it to win the first game of this series, and do you like the pressure of being the opening pitcher in this?

BARRY ZITO: Yeah, the first game is huge. We set the tone, pitching the first game of the first series was big. I think maybe it's a little more pressure to win the first of five. But we want to get started on the right foot, and we can do it here at home with two games. It's something that we're all very focused on, coming out and setting the tone early.

And you like to go first as the pitcher?

BARRY ZITO: Yeah, definitely. I've just been throwing baseballs since I was seven, so whatever the surrounding atmosphere is, let it be. But I'm the guy tomorrow.

The way that you've embraced the leadership role with a lot of the young pitchers, how much do you think the trades of Hudson and Mulder forced you to grow up a little bit more and forced you to become a veteran, and how much do you think that's made an impact on the way that you've progressed as a pitcher?

BARRY ZITO: Yeah, it really gave me an opportunity to become a solidified No. 1. Those guys went into veteran situations, had you had did I went to like John Smoltz's clubhouse per se and Mulder went into the Cardinals' clubhouse where Carpenter and Marquis and those guys were in there, had been there. So for whatever reason I had an opportunity to keep an eye on the little chicks, all the A's players in the clubhouse. Being 27 and dealing with that really helped me, and it transfers into this year where it's a good role, and being able to start the playoffs in the first game.

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When people look at these two teams, any similarities that they seem to find are generally with the pitching staffs. What are the images that are conveyed by their batting order, Detroit's?

BARRY ZITO: They can hurt you in the middle of the lineup, and they've got some fast guys. They play baseball the right way. They're going to hit and run, they're going to bunt, they're going to steal third and get guys over, they're going to hit it to the right side when they have to. They're just fundamentally sound.

A lot of times in the playoffs, World Series, the team that wins is the team that executes fundamentals the most consistently. That's something we're all expecting out of Detroit.

Both teams come into this series with a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence. Can you touch on how important that is at this point in the season, considering you guys broke that string and got to the ALCS and the Tigers clearly haven't been in this situation for a long time?

BARRY ZITO: Yeah, as for the Oakland A's, we're very happy to be able to get the monkey off our back. It wasn't many of us that had that monkey, it was only a few of us from the old teams. But we're a fresh clubhouse with a fresh outlook, and I think we're not satisfied with an ALDS or even an ALCS. I think we want to do the right thing, and I think Detroit is bringing that same mindset out doing what they did against New York. We're both riding highs right now and it makes it a better series.

You could have been traded in the off season; you could have been traded at the trade deadline this year. What does it mean to you that you're still here and getting the ball for the Oakland A's still, maybe leaving in the off season. But what does it mean to you to get this start after all that stuff?

BARRY ZITO: Yeah, it's great. There was always speculation for the last three seasons now of possible trades. That's just something that -- that's how baseball is. That's how the business is. I always said, until I'm not wearing white spikes, don't come up to me, don't ask me what I think, because like I always say, it's like asking a guy, well, you might get in a car accident today when you go home; how do you feel about that? I don't know, I'll deal with it when it happens.

Obviously Marco Scutaro has had a pretty good first series. What's he like in the clubhouse? He seems like fun in the dugout.

BARRY ZITO: Scutaro is very focused on what he does. His role as a backup guy the last couple years almost seems like a starting role because we've had some injuries. He's stepped up every way that we've asked him to. He's won multiple games over the last few years in the last at-bat. He's our ringer. He's the guy we look to to lead us. When other people see him coming up, I think they underplay his value, and he proves it every day.

Do you and Ken Macha interact a lot, and if so, what does he give you as a manager to a player?

BARRY ZITO: Mach brings a lot of pressure-free, relaxed environment. He comes up, he talks to us. We just rap about this or that, just the day's affairs. I don't get too much of a tight feeling from Mach. I'm sure we're all focused on what we have to do, but he keeps it light around the clubhouse, and he lets the kids play, which is all we can ask.

When Frank Thomas was acquired by you guys, what were your initial feelings about his addition to the team, and how have your feelings about having him on the team evolved as he's had this incredible season?

BARRY ZITO: When we got Frank we knew he was going to be a huge addition to the clubhouse, on the field, off the field. To have a Hall of Fame guy around the other 24 guys on a daily basis, I think you can't really speak of how that helps a team, how it helps a clubhouse, simply the vibe, him bringing to our position players more importantly than our pitchers, and he's in the dugout, he's chatting, cheering it up for the guys all the time.

You know, I don't know if my perspective has changed. We pretty much knew what we were getting with Frank. Just to see him have a year like he's having in person, almost single-handedly carry us in the playoffs here has been pretty much fun to watch. I'm not taking that for granted, and it's something I'll always remember.

Somebody asked Ken about clubhouse chemistry and the way it's evolved over the years. I would think you'd be better able to speak to it since you're in the clubhouse more often. The 2001 team got the big frat house rap. In your opinion has it changed dramatically, and if so, how?

BARRY ZITO: I don't think it's changed too dramatically. You know as well as a lot of the beat writers that have been in there every day for the last few years, it's pretty much the same. I don't know if I'd call it a frat house, but we're very relaxed, we have a lot of fun in there, Kotsay is always leading the cheers inside the clubhouse, and I think it's a situation where guys are just relaxed and they want to play baseball. We don't get too caught up in the pressures or the media or the expectations, anything like that.

I think that's the main thing that's been consistent throughout the years that I've been here.

Regardless of what happens next year, how special will this start be for you after all the years you've been with Oakland and making this Game One start in front of the hometown fans?

BARRY ZITO: Yeah, it's great. There was some speculation I may not pitch again here in Oakland, and my last start here against Weaver and the Angels, that was my last one. It's good to come home for the fans and see them in person and under a playoff atmosphere, which is great. They've got the white towels out there like they did against the Twins. It's going to be electric out there and I'm excited about it.

Courtesy of FastScripts by ASAP Sports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.