ST. LOUIS Barry Zitos relationship with Giants fans hasbeen difficult and often unpleasant over the past six years.
But with a season in his hands Friday night, fans arerallying behind Zito as never before. The RallyZito movement is taking off onTwitter, as legions of Giants fans changed their avatar picture to an image ofthe unique left-hander.
Lets just say that many of them are highly entertaining.Were talking about a pitcher who once had a second gig as a jeans model,remember.
But it will be all serious business when Zito takes themound for Game 5, hoping to keep the Giants alive in an NLCS that the St. LouisCardinals lead three games to one. If Zito and Co. can find a way through, theGiants would take the series back to San Francisco where Ryan Vogelsong andMatt Cain would offer authentic hope.
Zito, 34, has been in this position before. In fact, hepitched an elimination game last week at Cincinnati, and even though he didntmake it out of the third inning, the Giants managed to win for a 12thconsecutive time with the left-hander on the mound.
Zito allowed two runs, walked four and gave up a home run inthat start at Cincinnati, but he had a tight strike zone from umpire DanIassogna and only missed badly during one confrontation with Jay Bruce.
ZITO: Season stats
His stuff, actually, wasnt bad.
I don't think it was so much mechanicalmental, Zito said.I think it was just more about nitpicking on the corners too much, and insteadof just being aggressive. I'm going to go out there and be aggressivetomorrow and let my defense work for me.
Not too aggressive, though. The Cardinals led the NL with a.279 average against left-handed pitching, and they took apart MadisonBumgarner in Game 1. Six projected starters hit better than .300 against leftiesin the regular season, with Yadier Molina (.342, eight homers in 111 at-bats),David Freese (.320, five homers in 122 at-bats) and Matt Holliday (.316, 11homers in 155 at-bats) all looming as threats.
There is no bigger lefty basher in the Cardinals lineup thanfirst baseman Allen Craig. The Cal alum hit .354 with eight homers in 127at-bats against them.
Two of Craigs homers came against Zito on Aug. 7, whencoincidentally, the left-hander opposed Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn thesame matchup set for Game 5.
But Zito gave up no other runs in his 6 23 innings whilepitching the Giants to a 4-2 win and thus began the teams current streak of12 consecutive victories with Zito on the mound.
And one other note: He threw to Buster Posey that day.
GAME 5 Lineups: Back to usual in anything but usual game
Zito went back and watched video of that start, both toremind himself of what sequences and pitches worked well, and remind himselfwhat the Cardinals might be expecting from him next.
Yeah, I've already watched everything, Zito said. I justbasically look at what their guys do against lefthanded pitchers.Certain guys have certain tendencies on certain pitches, things they like,things they don't like.
I know these guys.These guys know me. We've allbeen in this league for a while. With the exception of a couple of guysin the lineup we all know what we're up against.
Zito is making his ninth career playoff start, but never onethis deep into the postseason. His only other LCS start came with the As in2006, when he got hit hard by the Detroit Tigers (3 23 innings, seven hits,five runs, two homers) in a Game 1 loss.
The current Tigers await the NL pennant winner in the WorldSeries. Its up to Zito to keep the Giants on the path. If he struggles, Madison Bumgarner will be called upon to bridge the gap.
This is what Zito had to say after his last start at BuschStadium. It seems appropriate to include now:
I always try to have fun playing the game, he said.Sometimes its more fun than others. But I love the chemistry in thisclubhouse. I want to stay healthy, get out there every five and help this teamwin.
Ill let you know at the end of the season how happy I am.