SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Revenge may be sweet, but the Giants tried their best to render it bland and sugar-free Thursday. Resorting to time-honored laws of baseball justice, San Francisco left-hander Barry Zito plunked Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder in the back during the first inning of a Cactus League game, settling an issue that had nagged the Giants all offseason. Last Sept. 6, Fielder upset the Giants with a choreographed home-plate celebration after homering to end a 12-inning, 2-1 Brewers victory at Milwaukee. As Fielder reached home plate, his teammates fell as if they were bowling pins.
Several Giants ominously hinted at that time that they would exact revenge upon Fielder the next time the teams met. That opportunity came Thursday, and Zito seized it quickly. With Corey Hart on first base and two outs, Zito drilled Fielder in the back with a first-pitch fastball. Fielder said nothing as he headed for first base -- though he picked up the ball that struck him and underhanded it insouciantly in Zito's direction. Fielder refrained from criticizing Zito or the Giants. "They have to do what they have to do. Whatever," he said. "I didn't see anything coming, but they have to do what they have to do. It's not going to take it away. It's chronicled. ... It is what it is. I hit the home run. Hit me. If that's what you've got to do, then that's what you've got to do." At least Fielder acknowledged that his home run celebration directly led to Zito's purpose pitch. By contrast, Zito almost sounded as if the Fielder incident last September never happened. Asked how long he had contemplated hitting Fielder, Zito replied, "We were just trying to go in there hard. It's not something we thought about for months and months."
Zito fielded a similar question -- regarding whether there was any intent to deliver a message to Fielder -- in similar fashion."No, we were just going with fastballs [inside] right there," he said. "It got away. The ball was running off." When his opinion of Milwaukee's Fielder-led celebration was sought, Zito responded with a non sequitur. "I'm just excited to go out there next game and see where my stuff's at," said the left-hander, who pitched despite being bothered recently by an infection on his left index finger. Giants manager Bruce Bochy also was eager to bury the Fielder incident. "Let's let bygones be bygones," Bochy said. "We're focused on the game. I'd rather talk about the game. We're moving on. This has created a lot of interest, but we're trying to get ready for the season." The teams took that approach. Nothing remotely hostile occurred during the rest of the afternoon as the Giants defeated the Brewers, 5-3. Shortly after Zito hit Fielder, home-plate umpire Ted Barrett walked toward the mound and said something to the pitcher but issued no warnings. After Zito ended the inning by striking out Casey McGehee, he crossed within about 20 feet of Fielder, who was still at first base. But they apparently never spoke. Zito wouldn't even comment on the peaceful atmosphere. "We just want to come out and play good baseball right now," he said, delivering another irrelevant answer. Fielder sounded as if staying calm was an objective. "Every time someone does something, I'm always the one videotaped," he said, referring to cameras that recorded him trying to get at Guillermo Mota after the then-Dodgers reliever hit him with a pitch last August. "So I'm trying to be a good guy. I [don't] want kids to see me that way, so I'm trying to maintain. Unfortunately, some people like to test it sometimes. I'm working on it. I'm tired of being the bad guy. I took my base and everything was fine." However, some observers theorized that Fielder hoped to capitalize on a game situation. He singled leading off the fifth inning and advanced to second base on McGehee's single, but waved off teammate Joe Inglett, who trotted onto the field to run for him. Was Fielder hoping for a play at the plate that would have given him an excuse to plow into Giants catcher Eli Whiteside? "I had to work on my baserunning," said Fielder, who scored in uneventful fashion from third base on Craig Counsell's two-out single. Asked whether his post-homer theatrics were worth absorbing the impact of Zito's pitch, Fielder said, "Hell yeah. Shoot, that was something with me and my teammates. It had nothing to do with [the Giants]. You're damn right it was worth it." Should Zito be disciplined? "That's not my call," Fielder said. "... I honestly don't care about anybody unless they're on my team." Bochy's refusal to dwell in the past suggested that the Giants won't take any further measures against Fielder. But Fielder sounded like an Old West gunfighter who sleeps with one eye open when he was asked if animosity between him and the Giants had dissolved. "It should be," he said. "But you never know nowadays."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.