What Zito did, then, will serve as a salve, not to mention extend the season. Over 72
3 brilliant innings, Zito baffled the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, delivering a 5-0 victory that staved off the offseason and sent the series back to San Francisco, where the Giants still face a three-games-to-two deficit in Sunday’s Game 6.
“He’s been through a lot, I know,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said. “. . . But this guy, he is some kind of tough.”
You want to bet against the Giants now? They have won four straight elimination games this postseason — three in the division series against Cincinnati, and the Zito-powered effort Friday against the Cardinals.
“Just get back home,” said San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford, who delivered a key two-run single. “Get one more day.”
They have one more day because of Zito, who somehow came up with the kind of performance he used to provide with regularity, back a decade ago, when he won 23 games for Oakland as a 24-year-old. For that Zito, Friday’s results — six harmless hits, 14 of his final 16 hitters retired, six strikeouts against one walk — would have seemed the norm. And one stat — the fact that the Giants won for the 13th straight time when Zito started — would have fit right in with his old, dominant days.
But watch Friday’s game, and it’s apparent this is a man who has reshaped how he pitches. Yes, it took him till the sixth year of the seven-season, $126 million contract that seems to define him, and it took that postseason snub two years ago. “It was certainly a huge blow, just personally,” he said of 2010.
But the Giants say he handled it professionally, and he won 15 games this regular season, his first winning campaign for San Francisco. On Friday, he scrambled the Cardinals’ brains by throwing his fastball at 85 mph, yet retiring them easily.
“That’s what pitching is,” Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny said. “You don’t have to have 99 [mph] on your fastball if you can locate and keep hitters off-balance.”
Zito and a one-inning undoing by his counterpart, Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn, quieted the Busch Stadium crowd of 47,075 and put the series in an interesting spot. The Giants now have right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who beat the Cardinals with seven innings of one-run ball earlier in the series, set for Game 6. Should they survive then, they have Matt Cain, their de facto ace, for the decisive Game 7.