It wasn’t the best of positions to be in. Yet, there the Giants were, for the second playoff series in a row. This time, however, staving off elimination was up to a starting pitcher that wasn’t even on the final roster for their last postseason run, in 2010.
What a time, then, to pitch the game of his Giants career.
Down 3-1 in the NLCS heading into Game 5, the San Francisco Giants gave the ball to embattled curveballer Barry Zito. Known more for his $126 million contract than his consistent play on the mound, even the most loyal fans had to have been a little wary about putting the season on his arm – an arm, as it has been documented, that rarely reaches speeds above 85 mph. Not to mention that he was facing a Cardinals lineup that feasted on left-handed pitching.
None of that seemed to matter in the cold St. Louis air. Using all of his tools – and using his lack of speed as an advantage – Zito pitched 7.2 innings of seven-hit, shutout ball to help the Giants stave off elimination against the Cardinals. He helped his own cause with an RBI bunt in a four-run 4th inning, adding to a run scored on a Lance Lynn error to second base, a two-run single by Brandon Crawford, and a Pablo Sandoval HR in the 8th. Then there was the Giants’ defense – highlighted by Hunter Pence’s sliding basket catch to stave off a major scoring threat by the Cardinals. Ending with a 5-0 victory, the Giants return to San Francisco – not in defeat, but with a chance to attempt another three-game comeback.
Simply put, Zito was the hero of the night for the Giants – and they will play again on Sunday because of him.
Some thoughts about the night:
- I think it’s important to put Zito’s night into some historical perspective. With his performance, Zito joins rare company in franchise postseason history – he is only the fourth Giants hurler to pitch a shutout with one walk or fewer with seven innings or more in a game (Tim Lincecum in the 2010 NLDS; Jason Schmidt in the 2003 NLDS; and Jack Scott in the 1922 World Series). And what’s more, Zito, despite his reputation as an inconsistent pitcher, actually has an impressive winning streak – the Giants have won every game Zito has started dating back to August 7th. And with his victory on Friday, he has won eight straight decisions.
- Much like in the NLDS, the Giants needed a fortuitous error by the opposing defense to spark the victory. Against the Reds, it was an untimely error in extras by Scott Rolen of the Reds that kept the Giants’ season alive. This time, it came much earlier, but no doubt had a significant impact on the rest of the game: Cardinals SP Lance Lynn, on a routine one-hopper, decided to throw to second for the second out of the inning, rather than go to first. The result was a bounce that got away from 2B (and Davis, CA product) Daniel Descalso, and allowed a run to score. From there, the floodgates opened and Lynn was pulled.
- Good news and bad news for Buster Posey, and I’ll start with the bad: he hasn’t been playing very well in this series, so far. He is only 3-for-18 in five games (a .167 batting average), with 0 RBIs and 5 strikeouts. For an NL MVP candidate, this cannot be helping his cause, and, despite the Giants’ performance in Game 5, they cannot hope to stay alive the rest of the way if Posey continues to play like this. The good news, however, is that Posey was recently named the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year: no Giants fan will forget his horrific collision at the plate against the Marlins in 2011, that effectively derailed the team’s chances of repeating as World Series champs, let alone making the playoffs. Now, that he’s even being considered for NL MVP, it says a lot about how much he has bounced back from the injury. Well done, Posey – now, if you can only come through on Sunday…
- Is it too much to ask for Chris Carpenter to show up like he did in Game 2, when he was outdueled by Ryan Vogelsong in a 7-1 beatdown? It would be difficult to see it happening twice in the same series, but it would definitely help a Giants team that hasn’t played very well at home this postseason (0-2 vs. Cincinnati; 1-1 vs. St. Louis). In any case, Vogelsong will have to bring his ‘A’ game again if they want to take this to a decisive Game 7. Funnily enough, perhaps he can take a few pointers from Barry Zito.