ST. LOUIS – Barry Zito has always been known for his curveball, and the Giants' starter out of desperation threw the curveball of the postseason in Game five Friday night, stifling, flummoxing and ultimately frustrating the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals with his collection of slow and slower pitches.
Nobody saw this coming, least of all the Cardinals, a.k.a. the Kings of October.
Zito may always be seen as the recipient of one of the biggest, most ill-advised contracts in baseball history, but for one night at least he was an absolute necessity for the San Francisco Giants. Pitching against destiny's darlings in his own personal house of horrors, Zito threw the best, most surprising game of his otherwise consistently mundane Giants career to send the National League Championship Series back to the Bay with a 5-0 victory out of nowhere.
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The clutch-as-can-be Cardinals still lead the series 3-2 in games, but let's not forget the Giants are second in the league in miracles to only St. Louis. Let's not forget they beat the Reds after trailing 2-0 in games, and going back to 2010, won a World Series when nobody was looking.
The celebration in this great baseball city is on hold now that Zito has summoned 2006. He's relying on a fastball of 84 or 85 mph now, but the curveball was sharp, the poise impressive and the location uncanny. Not a shock here: this was Zito's first postseason win since 2006, the season before he landed his free-agent haul to jump across the Bay. (He wasn't even active for the Giants' shocking '10 postseason run.)
It's true Zito won 15 games in the regular season, but that was thanks largely to a relentless Giants offense that average 5.96 runs per game for him, third most for any starter in the National League. And so was the 12 straight Zito starts the Giants won going into the game (13 now). In truth, the only thing he's gobbled up since getting to San Francisco are innings, and of course dollars.
But this was different. Zito suddenly transformed from No.5 starter (albeit an extremely good No. 5 starter) to an ace. He allowed six hits, he struck out six Cardinals, and the only walk was an intentional one to Pete Kozma that helped him out of his one serious jam, a bases-loaded threat in the second.
Two innings later, the Giants broke a scoreless game by taking advantage of a miscue by Cardinals starter Lance Lynn, who helped turn a potential double-play into a four-run inning when his throw to second actually hit the second-base bag and bounded into center field. Brandon Crawford followed with a two-run single.
Then Zito executed what might be the first bunt hit of his major-league career, scoring another run to make it 4-0.
That was yet another Zito curveball on a night where that was the theme.
The Giants have a lot of Cardinals in them. They never quit.
And now they have a real shot. The last two World Series winners will continue their fight in San Francisco with the Giants having a real chance to pull off yet another series comeback – thanks laregely to their highly-paid but improbable Game 5 hero.