ST. LOUIS -- It can pay to have a good memory in baseball because, as Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito said, "In this game, we forget at times what we're all capable of."
His pitching Friday night in a potential elimination game recalled the years when he was dominant, a Cy Young Award winner who received a $126-million contract and generated huge expectations. Zito became that pitcher again in NLCS Game 5 against the Cardinals, a 5-0 victory that also summoned memories of the Giants coming back from elimination to win three straight against the Reds in the NLDS.
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"That definitely gives you hope, which is a very powerful thing," said Hunter Pence, who hit a pivotal chopper back to the mound in the Giants' four-run fourth inning. They knew they needed to win three in a row again to reach the World Series and they were not fazed. Although they still trail three games to two, they are headed home with new life.
Hope got a big hand from the left arm of Zito on Friday night. If he could have a game like that, what isn't possible?
The Giants and their followers know the whole story: Zito was such a colossal disappointment that he didn't even make the postseason roster during the Giants' run to the 2010 World Series championship.
But he had a bounce-back season in 2012. The Giants have won the last 13 games he has started. None was more vital or artistic than his effort Friday night: no runs, six hits and six strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. He threw a season-high 115 pitches, and for good measure, drove home a run with the first bunt single of his career.
"I think it was the best game he has had as a Giant," said Peter Magowan, the team's former managing general partner, who signed Zito to the controversial contract and was in the clubhouse after the game. "It says a lot for his character. He's such a good guy. I wish him nothing but the best."
What did Zito think of it? "It's hard to sum it up in one answer," he said. "It's a plethora of things I've done and gone through here with the Giants. It was just a matter of going out and giving it what I've got."
Manager Bruce Bochy, the one who had to bench Zito two years ago, said: "He's been through a lot, I know. But this guy, he is some kind of tough."
Zito was more than too tough for the Cardinals, who had a chance to clinch the pennant in front of a full house at the unique environment of Busch Stadium (even Zito said the other day how great the atmosphere is here and how much he enjoys pitching in it). This time he had total recall about keeping the other side off balance. He evoked memories of his Cy Young style in the second, when he prevented the Cardinals from gaining early momentum. Yadier Molina and David Freese started the second with a single and double, respectively, but Zito struck out Daniel Descalso and ultimately put up a big zero.
For the second time this series, the Giants scored four in the fourth against Cardinals starter Lance Lynn. The key play came with one out and two on. Lynn fielded Pence's chop and threw to second, but the ball bounced off the bag and caromed into centerfield, allowing the first of four unearned runs to come home. The last of those was on a surprise bunt by Zito.
"It's just something that I've worked on," Zito said.
It all brought back some great memories, especially for Magowan, who finally saw the world-class pitcher he signed. "People kind of forget," the former owner said, "what kind of record he had."