Kevin C. Cox

Giants force Game 6 behind Zito mastery

Barry Zito pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings, and the Giants found the offense that had deserted them for most of the NLCS.

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Zito out after 7⅔, Giants still up going into 9th

Every manager has a tic that drives you nuts. Bruce Bochy consistently had one throughout the regular season for the Giants, and it had to do with leaving a starting pitcher in for the eighth or ninth inning, and then removing him when the leadoff hitter reached. It was like a plot to give the other team a free runner, and it would happen in close games, blowouts ... constantly.

So when Barry Zito surprisingly came out for the eighth inning, Giants fans were probably expecting a leadoff runner. Instead, this was the first batter:


But the second batter reached -- Jon Jay hit a ball off the glove of first baseman Brandon Belt. And then it seemed logical that Bochy would walk out and get Zito.

Except he didn't. He left Zito in to face Carlos Beltran in the eighth with 109 pitches on his ledger. Which seemed a little crazy. But Zito got Beltran to fly out, and Santiago Casilla came in for the final out of the inning, striking out Matt Holliday.

And that's the story of how Barry Zito pitched the game of his life exactly when the Giants needed him to. It will be up to Sergio Romo, most likely, in the ninth.

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Panda's leadoff homer makes it 5-0 in the 8th

Cardinals flamethrower Trevor Rosenthal blew away the Giants in the sixth and seventh innings. Mitchell Boggs, in the eighth, had no such luck. Pablo Sandoval led off and, after working the count full, did this:

Pabloooo

Pandamonium! Well, maybe if they'd been in San Francisco. Considering the Cardinals had been losing by four runs since the fourth inning, there were probably just a bunch of glum fans getting more glum while Sandoval rounded the bases to make the score 5-0.

Boggs did get out of the inning with no more damage, so the Cards have six outs to make up five runs. It's not looking too good for the home team, which is probably ticketed for the long trip to California.

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Zito allows runner, Giants still up 4-0

Yep. Runner, singular. Barry Zito is pitching a game that is so good, it's worth pointing out that he allowed a runner in the seventh inning. Daniel Descalso flipped a ball out to right field with two outs, and it fell just in front of Hunter Pence. That qualified as a Cardinals rally against Zito in Game 5.

Goodness. That was unexpected.

Zito is probably done for the night, and where the Giants were crossing their fingers and hoping for a quality start, he gave them their best start of the postseason. The Giants are somehow in the NLCS without a lot of good starting pitching, but they finally have their ace-like, top-o'-the-rotation performance. And it came from Barry Zito.

The lefty threw 99 pitches through seven full innings, walking one and striking out five. He allowed five hits, two of them doubles, and he didn't allow a run after pitching out of a couple of early jams.

The playoffs, everybody. The playoffs.

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Zito cruising, Giants still lead 4-0 in 7th

Hey, maybe Trevor Rosenthal should start in the World Series if the St. Louis Cardinals get there.

Because in the sixth inning, he looked like their best pitcher. Rosenthal routinely throws 98 miles an hour, and so here's how the top of the sixth went:

Brandon Belt struck out looking.
Gregor Blanco struck out swinging.
Brandon Crawford struck out looking.

It was the second time in Game 5 that three Giants struck out, and that made 10 K's in the game for the Giants in only six innings.

Fat lot of good it's done the Cardinals. Barry Zito's still got a shutout through six innings after zipping through the Cardinals with ease, for his second straight 1-2-3 frame. Zito's thrown only 80 pitches, and figures to come out for the seventh unless he's bumped for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh.

After six innings, the Giants are still leading the Cardinals in this must-win game, 4-0.

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Barry Zito still cruising, defense helping out

Barry Zito has held the Cardinals scoreless through five innings, dancing in and out of jams. He's probably been a little lucky, but that doesn't mean he isn't pitching well -- he has the Cardinals off-balance like no other Giants pitcher has this NLCS.

But he's needed a little help from his defense in the bottom of the fifth. With no one out, Pete Kozma blooped a ball down the right field line. Hunter Pence chased after it as if his thorax was on fire, and he caught it with one of his feelers.


THE EYES. DON'T LOOK AT THE EYES AND ... oh, too late. They'll come for you in the middle of the night now, you know.

The next batter was pinch-hitter Shane Robinson, who rapped a sharp grounder to Marco Scutaro, who made a great diving play to his left for the second out of the inning. Jon Jay grounded to third for the final out, and Zito is through five scoreless innings. He's thrown 69 pitches and walked only one.

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Giants knock out Lynn, lead Cardinals 4-0 in 4th

In the top of the fourth inning, Lance Lynn finally gave up a hit. And then he gave up a lot more than that.

In the first three innings of Game 5, Lynn held the Giants hitless while racking up five strikeouts. In the fourth, though, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval opened with singles, Scutaro stopping at second. Lynn responded by striking out Buster Posey for the second time in the game. Then Hunter Pence chopped an easy grounder to Lynn.

Lynn gave the Giants a run, and the lead:

Ballderp

Shortstop Pete Kozma was late getting to second base, which probably rattled Lynn and caused the low throw, which caromed off the bag. Scutaro scored easily, Sandoval went to third, and Pence was safe at first on the error.

Lynn got Brandon Belt on a little pop, but walked Gregor Blanco to load the bases. And suddenly, Lynn was in a huge jam and Joe Kelly was getting loose in the bullpen.

He wouldn't escape the jam. After falling behind Brandon Crawford, Lynn worked the count full before Crawford sent a grounder up the middle for a two-run single.

Finally, a respite: Barry Zito was due next. No problem. Oh, except Zito had another idea and he executed that idea with absolute perfection:

Zitorbi

Just as in Game 1 of this series, Lynn got knocked out by the Giants with two outs in the fourth inning.

All four runs off Lynn were unearned, but that must be small solace, considering who made the error that led to all of them.

Joe Kelly did indeed come into the game, and struck out Angel Pagan to strand two Giants.

Heading to the bottom of the fourth, it's Giants 4, Cardinals 0.

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I spent a long time on this graph, so look at it

The graph in question:


Toward the end of the season, Barry Zito wasn't giving up fewer runs, but he was pitching better -- allowing fewer walks, and getting more swing-throughs. What the graph purports to show is that his curveball was getting better and better as the season went along. When it slurves, Zito can't control it. But when it's his normal 12-to-6 (or 11-to-5, really) curve, he commands it better.

Better curveball command means all sorts of good things for Zito. It's a get-ahead pitch, and it's a strikeout pitch. But perhaps most importantly, it makes his fastball play better. And that allows things like this:


On the previous pitch, Holliday just tipped a big curve to stay alive. He had to be wary of it for the next pitch, and that's why he couldn't catch up to the blistering 86-m.p.h. heat from Zito.

Through three innings, Zito has his curve and his command. He'd like a lead, too, I'm sure.

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Zito lives on edge, Lynn's blowing Giants away

If you had to predict an early story in Game 5 of this National League Championship Series, your only real choice was something about Barry Zito getting hammered in the first two or three innings, because a) that's been his recent history in big games, and 2) the Cardinals typically punish left-handed pitchers. Especially (we might surmise) left-handed pitchers who barely throw harder than your Nana.

Well, that hasn't happened yet. Not exactly. In the bottom of the first, Carlos Beltran singled but got stranded. In the second, though, Yadier Molina drove Zito's first into center field for a single. David Freese then drove the first pitch he saw into right field, where Hunter Pence failed to make a diving catch; Freese cruised into second base, with Molina holding at third.

Zito battled back to strike out Daniel Descalso, then issued an intentional pass to Pete Kozma, bringing up Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn with the bases loaded. And Lynn obliged the Giants by hitting into an easy double play, 6 to 4 to 3. And Zito had somehow wriggled out of the big jam.

So far, the real story in this game? Lance Lynn has been literally unhittable in the first two innings. In the top of the first, Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan grounded out, and then Lynn struck out Pablo Sandoval. And in the second, Lynn struck out all three Giants he faced: Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Brandon Belt. And he needed only a dozen pitches to do it.

Anyway, we're heading into the third inning and this one's still scoreless.

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Giants go quietly, Cards leave runner on second

Lance Lynn is a converted reliever, so you might guess that he has a knack for getting through at least an inning or two before wearing down. I'm not sure why you'd guess that. It's a pretty stupid theory. And there's no evidence to support it, either; Lynn had a 7.45 ERA in the first inning this year, and hitters hit .330/.417/.643 against him in the opening frame.

The Giants care not for your microsplits. And they went down in order in the first on a pair of grounders and a Pablo Sandoval strikeout. Lynn threw 11 pitches, eight for strikes.

Things didn't go quite as smoothly for Barry Zito, but he still escaped the first inning unscathed. Carlos Beltran hit a one-out single between Sandoval and Brandon Crawford that couldn't have been thrown in a better spot, and Beltran advanced to second with a stolen base after Matt Holliday struck out.

That brought up Allen Craig, who murdered Zito when they faced off in August. In this at-bat, though, he was robbed by Sandoval:


It probably would have been foul, but more importantly to Zito, it was the third out of the inning. It's scoreless in Game 5.

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Giants defy history, turn to Barry Zito in Game 5

So, yeah: Barry Zito.

It wasn't supposed to come to this, was it? When the 2012 season began, Barry Zito was the Giants' No. 5 starter, but his job was secure because -- with the departure of Jonathan Sanchez in a brilliant trade -- the club just didn't have anyone else. In the pecking order, though, it went something like Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong ... three hundred crickets playing three hundred tiny violins ... and Barry Zito. That's what happens when you go 3-4 the previous season, and haven't had a winning record since 2006.

Something funny happened on the way to Obscurity, though: Barry Zito went 15-8, just missing a tie for the team lead in victories. At the same time, Lincecum was suffering through the worst season of his career (by a lot). What's more, Zito got lucky hot at just the right time. From the 7th of August through the end of the season, Zito started 11 games and the Giants won all 11 of them; in that stretch, his ERA was a non-thrilling 3.92, but his other numbers were quite good, with plenty of strikeouts and few walks or home runs.

For those 11 starts, Zito seemed worth his $19 million salary.

For the whole season, though? Zito's 2012 performance mirrored almost exactly what he'd done in his previous five seasons as a Giant. Except you might argue it was even worse, since AT&T Park seems to have been exceptionally pitcher-friendly this year. Zito's 4.15 ERA seems perfectly decent, but his 84 ERA+ was actually the worst of his career.

So, there's that. If you buy into park effects, you have to conclude that Zito was essentially a replacement-level National League starting pitcher. And you wouldn't give a replacement-level starting pitcher much of a shot against the St. Louis Cardinals, who basically eviscerated left-handed pitchers this season.

You want hope, Giants fans?

I'm sorry. I don't really have anything for you. But as Giants fans remember too well, Zito has started two huge games for the club during his tenure, and both outings ended disastrously.

Two years ago, on the last Saturday of the regular season, Zito drew a start against the Padres. A win for the Giants would have clinched the National League West title. A loss would leave the Giants needing to win on Sunday.

Zito lasted three-plus innings; Bruce Bochy pulled him when Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer led off the fourth inning with a walk, the fourth Zito issued. The Giants went on to lose the game, but did clinch the next day. Of course, they also went on to win their first World Championship since moving to San Francisco. Zito didn't pitch a single inning during the Giants' postseason run.

Last week, Zito started against the Reds in the fourth game of their Division Series. A loss would eliminate the Giants.

This time, Zito didn't survive the third inning; Bochy pulled him after he issued his fourth walk. Of course, the Giants would come back to win that game, and the series.

And here were are again, the Giants needing to win and Barry Zito pressed into service, this time because it's been roughly two months since Madison Bumgarner has done anything to inspire real confidence in his manager or anyone else associated with the Giants; in Bumgarner's two postseason starts, he's given up a ton of hits, including two home runs.

Bruce Bochy was faced with a true dilemma. He had to pick one of the horns. No it's probably just a question of how badly he's gored.

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