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Behind Barry Zito, Giants beat Cardinals 5-0 in Game 5 to stay alive

Dilip Vishwanat

With Barry Zito starting Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, one could imagine three paths to victory for the Giants. In reverse order of likelihood, they were:

3. Barry Zito pitches exceptionally well.

2. Barry Zito pitches poorly, Giants out-slug Cardinals and win anyway.

1. Barry Zito pitches decently and the Cardinals hit a lot of baseballs to the wrong spot and Zito's defense gives him some help.

The most likely thing, of course, was that Zito would get knocked around and the Giants would lose. But among the "Giants win Game 5" scenarios, those were the big ones.

And wouldn't you know it, the Giants beat the Cardinals 5-0, all thanks to Likelihood No. 1.

Well, also thanks to a botched fielding play that left everyone essentially blameless, perhaps. But we'll get back to that in a moment. For now, let's stick with Zito.

In the bottom of the first, Carlos Beltrán was on second base with two outs when Pablo Sandoval made a circus catch on a hump-backed liner that was actually in foul territory when Sandoval made the play.

The bottom of the second inning opened with a couple of Cardinals hitting rockets; a key strikeout of Daniel Descalso later, an intentional walk loaded the bases with just one out. But Lance Lynn, Zito's mound opponent, grounded into an easy double play.

Allen Craig led off the fourth with a double, and went to third on a grounder but stayed there, thanks in part to David Freese hitting a line drive directly at shortstop Brandon Crawford. And it just kept on going like that. In the fifth, Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro both made great plays to save hits. In the sixth, Ángel Pagán made a shoestring catch in center field.

In fairness to Zito, he also made plenty of big pitches, including some 85-mile-an-hour fastballs, straight through the heart of the strike zone, that somehow the Cardinals couldn't even touch. His 99th pitch was one of just such fastballs, which he threw right past Pete Kozma to end the seventh inning.

Zito didn't allow a run in those seven innings, while striking out five Cardinals and issuing just one (intentional) walk.

Meanwhile, Lance Lynn wasn't nearly as lucky (or good). Lynn opened with three perfect innings, including five strikeouts. But he'd been knocked out of Game of this series in the fourth inning, and lightning would strike twice. Scutaro led off the fourth with a single, and Sandoval followed with another.

Lynn struck out Buster Posey, but then everything sort of came apart. Hunter Pence hit a little grounder toward the second baseman, but Lynn got there first and wheeled for a throw to second. But shortstop Pete Kozma was late getting there, and Lynn's throw struck the bag and caromed into center field; Scutaro scored, Sandoval went to third, and Lynn was safe at first on Lynn's error.

Again Lynn seemed to steady, and again it didn't last. After getting Brandon Belt on a little pop fly, he walked Gregor Blanco to load the bases. And with a full count, Brandon Crawford grounded a two-run single up the middle to make the score 3-0. With Zito due next, finally the carnage would end.

Except with third baseman David Freese playing in his normal spot, Zito poked a perfect bunt down the third-base line and reached first base easily, with another run scoring. Lynn walked the bases loaded, and his night was over.

From there, the St. Louis bullpen held the Giants down until the top of the eighth, when Sandoval led off with a line-drive homer into the right-field stands. But the bullpen's work was mooted by Zito's performance.

He came back out for the eighth, and struck out pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker to open the frame. Jon "The Federalist" Jay reached on a grounder that bounced off Belt at first base, but Carlos Beltran lifted an easy fly to right. That came on Zito's 115th pitch, and finally his evening was over. It was just the second time in his last 23 starts that Zito had recorded an out in the eighth inning.

Santiago Casilla replaced Zito, and after a tough battle struck out Matt Holliday for the third out.

In the top of the ninth, St. Louis reliever Edward Mujica set down the Giants in order.

And in the bottom of the ninth, Giants closer Sergio Romo came on and worked around Yadier Molina's one-out single to seal the Giants' 5-0, series-extending victory.

So now everyone's heading back to San Francisco for Game 6 on Sunday night, with Chris Carpenter and Ryan Vogelsong slated for the pitching duties.

Meanwhile, although nobody's likely to forget Barry Zito's contract or his performance over the last five seasons because of just one game, his Game 5 performance probably erased as many bad memories as one game can.