Oakland A's

Hudson, Zito reminisce ahead of nostalgic matchup in Oakland

San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Hudson, left, and Oakland Athletics pitcher Barry Zito smile after a news conference Friday about their pitching matchup on Saturday in Oakland.
San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Hudson, left, and Oakland Athletics pitcher Barry Zito smile after a news conference Friday about their pitching matchup on Saturday in Oakland. The Associated Press

Tim Hudson joked that when he and Barry Zito take the mound Saturday for the Giants and A’s, respectively, some younger fans at O.co Coliseum might not understand what all the fuss is about.

“Some of the kids in the stands don’t really have a clue who we are,” Hudson said with a grin. “Their parents probably do. But these kids are like, ‘Who’s this Hudson guy? This Zito guy?’ 

For those who do remember when Hudson and Zito broke into the majors in Oakland, the nostalgia figures to be thick as the two oppose each other in a fitting coda to their careers. Zito described it Friday as “kind of funny”: He and Hudson debuted within 14 months of each other, helped form the “Big Three” in the Oakland rotation in the early 2000s, went on separate career paths in which both won a World Series in San Francisco, and now start against each other, back in the Bay Area, in the twilight of their careers.

“I don’t think we could’ve written a better script,” Hudson said. “It think it’s very unique, something that just don’t happen.”

Both pitchers pledged to be “all business” when they cross the foul lines Saturday. But on Friday afternoon they sat together behind microphones in a Coliseum interview room and smiled and reminisced.

Zito recalled sitting in the team hotel the night before his major-league debut watching on TV as Hudson was roughed up by the Angels, whom Zito would face the next day.

“I was like, dang dude, Huddy’s so nasty – I got no shot out there,” Zito said.

Zito did all right, beating the Angels to begin a career that has included American League Cy Young honors in 2002, three All-Star selections and 165 wins. Hudson leads all active pitchers with 222 wins, making four All-Star teams in his 17 seasons. As teammates in Oakland from 2000-04, Zito and Hudson combined to go 153-77 with a 3.36 ERA, forming the “Big Three” with Mark Mulder that led the A’s to four straight playoff appearances.

“Somebody mentions one of us, it’s almost like you can’t say one without the other two,” Hudson said. “Especially around these parts.”

Hudson, 40, plans to retire after this season. Zito, 37, is unsure – though he was ready to walk away after spending this season at Triple-A Nashville, returning from an injury late in the season to throw one relief inning that he thought was his last. Then the A’s called him up Sept. 16.

“I’m looking at scouting reports I’ve never looked at,” Zito said of preparing to face the Giants. “Buster Posey – that guy can hit.”

Speaking of hitting, Hudson joked the pitchers should lobby their teams to do away with the designated hitter for the day so they could face each other in the batter’s box. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said that isn’t in the plans. A’s manager Bob Melvin, like Bochy a former catcher, suggested a different tweak.

“Bochy and I should probably catch the first few innings,” Melvin joked, “based on our experience.”

Bochy’s response: “I think I’ll DH.”

The A’s plan to honor the “Big Three” before Sunday’s game, with Mulder joining Zito and Hudson on the field in a pregame ceremony. Asked if they had heard from any other former teammates, Zito said then-A’s third baseman Eric Chavez had texted Hudson to ask “how the air is over there at (age) 40. He hasn’t responded yet.”

“I gotta put my reading glasses on,” Hudson said.

“Gotta increase that font so you can see,” Zito said.

Zito has pitched in just two games, one inning each, since early August, so he said he has spent the past week building up his pitch count for Saturday’s start. Melvin said he thinks 50 pitches is a conservative estimate for Zito, though the adrenaline of the moment could have an effect. When Zito takes the mound in front of an expected sellout crowd, he likely won’t feel the need for a limit, Melvin said.

“I hope the reception’s going to be good for both of us,” Hudson said. “Some of my best memories in baseball were when I was here in Oakland, obviously Barry played for both teams as well. I just feel like it’s almost a celebration of both of our careers, the fact that we played for both teams. Something that’s really cool.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee