ST. LOUIS - Barry Zito rolled back the clock and the San Francisco Giants rolled over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Reminiscent of his heydays with the Oakland Athletics, Zito twirled a masterpiece in pitching the Giants back to San Francisco.
Backed by 7 2/3 scoreless innings from Zito, the Giants hung a 5-0 loss on the Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
With their backs against the proverbial wall and facing elimination with another loss, the Giants did what they normally do in such situations — they won.
With the Cardinals up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, the next game is Sunday in San Francisco.
Zito’s performance was they key as he was simply brilliant in his first start this series.
Zito entered the game with a pretty significant stat sitting beside his name and improved on it. With the victory, the Giants have now had won each of his last 13 starts, a run where Zito has gone 8-0. In eight of those 13 starts the lefty allowed two runs or less.
“All things considered, there’s definitely some playoff memories there but they were all in a different uniform,” Zito said of his performance in a do-or-die game. “This is probably the biggest one for me.
“The most important thing for me was to come out and give everything I got. And I did.”
The last start by Zito that ended in a Giants loss occurred Aug. 2 in a game against the New York Mets.
And they saved him for Game 5?
In a pressure-packed situation he was superb, blanking the Cards on six hits.
“He has pitching,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of Zito. “He was moving it in-and-out, back-and-forth, taking speeds of his breaking ball and changeup. He was pitching. We never got in a good groove. He didn’t make many mistakes.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy was effusive in his praise.
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” Bochy said. “He’s done a great job for us this year. We’ve won 13 straight with him on the mound now. He’s been through a lot.
“This guy, he is some kind of tough and he’s always been a stand-up kind of guy. He had it all going tonight, had all four pitches going and was very aggressive in the strike zone. He laid down a bunt and put on quite a show.”
On the other side of the coin it was a repeat nightmare scenario for Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn.
In the first game of this series, Lynn made the start and didn’t allow a hit through three innings. Then in the fourth, the Giants got to him for four runs and drove him from the game.
The exact same set of circumstances repeated themselves in his second start.
Blanking the Cardinals without a hit through three, it all fell apart for Lynn in the fourth.
A throwing error to second base on a comebacker off the bat of Hunter Pence — Lynn hit second base with a sinker — opened the door to the Giants’ four-run inning. All four of their runs would be unearned.
“We got a break tonight on that throw,” Bochy said. “It’s always good to put a crooked number up there. In this game it’s always good to get a break but you’ve got to take advantage of it and we did.”
The fourth inning obviously turned the game in the Giants’ favour and Matheny didn’t see it coming given how Lynn was throwing in the opening three innings.
“I thought he was as good as we’ve seen him all season those first three innings,” Matheny said of Lynn. “He looked like he was untouchable. He was mixing his off-speed pitches very well and executing his fastball instead of just trying to throw past people. He was pitching.
“And the fourth, a couple of quick base hits, gets an out, strikeout and the ball back to him. He’s got an opportunity, pretty good runner on first, he gets an out at first base, you’re sitting with two outs, second and third. And gets a pop-up on the next guy.
“But I don’t mind him being aggressive if he’s got the play. (Pete) Kozma was in the right place, he just made a low throw. And to do it over again, I’m sure he’d like to take the easy out at first base and then try his luck on (Brandon) Belt.
“Didn’t work that way, and we were stuck in a spot where it just kind of spiraled at that point in a hurry. And that was the game.
At no time, Matheny emphasized, did the Cardinals think they had the series wrapped up heading into the game.
“We’re never thinking for a second that these guys were going to go away,” he said. “They’re a good team and they’re going to keep fighting, we know that. It comes down to execution and today they executed better than we did.”
With the win, the Giants completed step 1 of a three-step miracle comeback process, one that they played to perfection in their NL Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds. In that one, the Giants lost the first two games at home then won the series by winning three consecutive games on the road.
This time they get the next two games at home.
Two more steps to go.