Baggs' Instant Replay: Zito saves season, Giants force Game 6

919331.jpg

Baggs' Instant Replay: Zito saves season, Giants force Game 6

BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS Only Barry Zito can say whether he pitched the game of his life Friday night.

But thanks to him, the Giants still lay claim to theirs.

Doubted and derided for such a stout measure of his six seasons here, Zito took the mound with a groundswell of support from his dugout and from back home. And he turned the sneer, big-money pitcher into an accolade as the Giants shocked a red-clad crowd with a 5-0 victory in Game 5 of the NLCS that forced this series to return to 24 Willie Mays Plaza for Game 6 on Sunday.

Zito spun all manner of webs from his fingertips, curving and cutting and sliding through one of baseballs most dangerous right-handed lineups while taking a shutout into the eighth inning.

He even surprised with the first bunt single of his career, which followed Brandon Crawfords two-run single and capped a four-run rally in the fourth inning.

It was enough for Zito to bring them home. Four runs is almost always enough for him.

He won his first postseason game since the 2006 AL Division Series for Oakland, when he outpitched the Twins' Johan Santana.

The Cardinals lead the best-of-7 series, three games to two. They arrived at Busch Stadium with their bags packed as a contingency. They did not unpack.

Starting pitching report
The Cardinals lineup stung left-handers all season, but Zito kept pacifying their bats with soft smoke.

He stayed around the zone with all his pitches, mixing his snappier curve along with a slider, a cutter and an 85-mph fastball that kept hitting catcher Buster Poseys target. He struck out six in 7 23 innings and the only walk he issued was intentional.

It helped that umpire Ted Barrett, who also worked the plate for Matt Cains perfect game in June, allowed him to color outside the lines a bit.

A calm first inning is so important for Zito, and he managed it while pitching around Carlos Beltrans one-out single. Even that hit came on what looked to be a quality curveball; third baseman Pablo Sandoval helped to save Zito some pitches, at least, when he made a diving catch of Allen Craigs soft foul fly for the third out.

The Cardinals applied instant pressure in the second inning, though. Yadier Molina pumped his fist while running down the line on his leadoff single up the middle, and David Freese reached on a bloop double when right fielder Hunter Pence came up short on a diving attempt near the line.

But Zito disarmed the pesky lower third of the Cardinals order. He struck out Daniel Descalso, and after an intentional walk to No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma, pitcher Lance Lynn broke his bat while grounding into a double play. (Why, again, do managers ever let their pitchers swing with the bases loaded and less than two outs?)

When the game began, Craig posed the biggest threat to Zito; the Cardinals first baseman homered twice off him in August, for the only runs that the left-hander allowed in a 4-2 victory.

Zito did not own Craig on this night, either. The Cal alum reached on a leadoff double in the fourth and took third on Molinas tapper back to the mound, but Zito retired David Freese on a lineout to short and Descalso grounded out as the Cardinals failed to score.

Once handed a 4-0 lead, Zito kept throwing strikes and involving his defense. His teammates did nothing to make him regret that tactic, especially in the fifth inning when Pence made a sliding catch and second baseman Marco Scutaro skidded on his knees in the outfield grass while taking away another hit.

Then Zito went from locked in to unconscious. He began the sixth by getting ahead of Beltran, only one of the best postseason hitters in history, and dusted him with a fastball that appeared to have suction force as it hit Poseys high target.

Pagan made a fine catch of Craigs sinking liner to end another 1-2-3 inning, and Zito pitched around Descalsos two-out single to get the Giants back in the dugout quickly in the seventh.

Zito allowed a one-out single in the eighth but manager Bruce Bochy allowed him to face Beltran one more time. Zito recorded a fly out to right field on his 115th and final pitch one more than he threw in his remarkable shutout at Coors Field to begin his season.

The Giants had been swept in a three-game series at Arizona to begin the year. Zito picked them up at Coors Field. He kept them alive now.

And hows this: If the Giants can run the table on the Cardinals, Zito would appear to be the No.1 option to start Game 1 of the World Series.

Bullpen report
Santiago Casilla struck out Matt Holliday to strand Zitos runner in the eighth.

Sergio Romo pitched around a single in the ninth to preserve the shutout the Giants first in the postseason since their Halloween night victory at Texas in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series.

At the plate
Zito entered the game 125-7 in his career when he receives at least four runs of support, including 40-3 in six years as a Giant.

That seemed like a big bucket to fill, given their struggles against Cardinals pitching in this series. And Lance Lynn dominated the first time through the order, striking out five while facing one more than the minimum in three innings.

But just as he did in Game 1, Lynn came upon his invisible wall in the fourth inning -- and he smacked into it like a parakeet.

Scutaro and Sandoval started the rally with consecutive singles, and after Buster Posey chased a slider while striking out, Hunter Pence hit a tapper back to the mound.

It should have been a double play, but Kozma broke late from shortstop to cover second base and Lynn made a throw that couldve won him a fuzzy blue bear at the carnival. It did him no favors in his actual context, though. The low throw doinked off second base and bounced into center field for an error, allowing Scutaro to score.

Brandon Belt popped out with runners at the corners, but Gregor Blanco drew a two-out walk to load the bases and Brandon Crawford served a 3-2 pitch up the middle for a two-run single.

It was Zito, of all people, who capped the four-run rally. He surprised the usually savvy Cardinals with a two-out bunt that landed like a drop shot down the third base line. Freese was playing far too deep to do anything useful as Blanco raced home.

The Giants did not score again until the eighth, when Sandoval turned around an inside heater from Mitchell Boggs that was meant to jam him. It was the third home run of the postseason for the Panda one fewer than what Cody Ross contributed to the Giants in their 2010 run.

Sandoval, who ailed all game after fouling a ball off his right foot in the first inning, did his traditional face-to-beard happy dance with Brian Wilson upon returning to the dugout.

In field
Pence came up short on his attempt to catch Freeses double in the second inning, but he made a remarkable effort to haul in Kozmas dying quail in the fifth. The ball actually hit Pence on the right wrist before taking a lucky deflection into his glove.

Scutaro followed by sliding on the outfield grass and then making a quick throw to retire pinch hitter Shane Robinson.

All in all, the Giants played their cleanest and best defensive game thus far this postseason.

Attendance
The Cardinals announced 47,075 paid. The RallyLynn movement never took off.

Up next
After traveling on Saturday, the Giants and Cardinals shift to AT&T Park for Game 6 of the NLCS on Sunday. Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong (1-0, 1.50 in two postseason starts) will oppose right-hander Chris Carpenter (1-1, 1.86 in two postseason starts). First pitch is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. PDT.

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

CHICAGO — Had a half-dozen other things gone differently Wednesday night, the Giants might have spent the hour after the game shrugging off a blowout loss or celebrating one of the best at-bats of the year. 

Three innings after the game was nearly lost for good, Mac Williamson saw 12 pitches from Wade Davis, who entered with a perfect ERA in 19 appearances, fouling eight of them off before slamming a two-run homer to right. The play came with some comedic value, as Williamson nearly passed Eduardo Nuñez on the bases. It also came with some historic value, as it snapped a streak of 19 consecutive solo shots that was two shy of the MLB record. 

The homer was not, however, the talking point after the game. A few minutes after Williamson went deep, Joe Panik was tossing his bat into the grass in frustration over a called third strike that ended the game and clinched a 5-4 win for the Cubs. Ten minutes after that, Bruce Bochy watched the highlight and tossed his phone onto his desk. 

“It’s a shame to end on that call, it really is,” Bochy said. “We had him on fumes and that’s not a strike. But they got the call and that’s it.”

The Giants were left with their third loss in four games, a run that has halted their momentum. They again are 11 games back in the National League West, with so many nights like this one: A comeback seemed real, but the mistakes were too much to overcome. 

Williamson, in talking about his homer, pivoted and pointed to a blunder of his own. In a tied game in the fifth, Miguel Montero hit a single to right with Addison Russell on first. The speedy shortstop watched Williamson as the ball rolled into the outfield, and when Williamson didn’t charge as hard as he otherwise might, Russell took off for third. The throw was perfect, but late. Russell scored on a fly ball. 

“The home run is really cool but it would have been a lot cooler if I hadn’t have made the mistake earlier in the game and given them the extra run,” Williamson said, explaining that he has tried to focus on being smooth to the ball and not rushing on fast outfields. In the past, rushing has led to bobbles and extra bases. 

Another costly sequence came in the eighth. After the Giants left the bases loaded in the top of the inning, Steven Okert gave up a triple to Jason Heyward, who scored on a sacrifice fly. Okert, so good when he was first called up, has been less effective of late. 

“We’ve got to get our lefties going,” Bochy said. “We gave them a run there and that put it at three and that’s just enough to cover it for them.”

Truth be told, the Giants were probably lucky to even have worries at that point. The wind blew a three-run Heyward homer inches foul in the sixth, and while the Giants grumbled about the final call of the game, an earlier call on Heyward for running inside the base path took a Cubs run off the board and killed a rally. It was correct by the letter of the law, but one you rarely see. The Giants escaped, but they wouldn’t come all the way back, despite Williamson’s late push. 

The young outfielder has been looking to make an impact since coming back up on the last homestand. He knew how tough Davis has been. 

“He’s been the best in the game this year and the numbers speak for themselves,” Williamson said. “He has phenomenal stuff. You get in the box and figure you’ve got nothing to lose, battle as tough as you can.”

Williamson fouled off good strikes and tantalizing balls. When he lofted a 2-2 pitch toward right, he took off out of the box. The ball carried just over the wall, and Williamson didn’t look up until he rounded third. That’s when Phil Nevin started yelling at him to slow down. Nuñez, who had a tight hamstring, turned and told Williamson to slow down.

“I kinda blacked out for a second there,” Williamson said. 

“I was like, ‘Bro, it’s a homer — just jog,’” Nunez said.

The moment temporarily sent a rush through the dugout. Minutes later, the Giants were left livid over a game that probably shouldn’t have been so close, but nonetheless was right there for them to steal. 

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Giants will need a win on getaway day to clinch their first winning road trip.

Wednesday's comeback attempt fell just short, as the Giants scored two in the ninth but lost to the Cubs 5-4. Since taking the first two games in St. Louis, they have dropped three of four, falling 11 games back of the Rockies in the division.

Here are five things to know from the coldest Giants game of the year … 

— Mac Williamson fouled off eight pitches before going the opposite way against Wade Davis, who entered with a 0.00 ERA in 19 appearances. The two-run homer ended a run of 19 consecutive solo shots by the Giants, two short of their own MLB record. It was the first homer off Davis in two years. 

— The sixth inning was one of the stranger escapes we’ve seen from a pitcher this season. With two on and one out, Jason Heyward blasted a Matt Moore pitch right down the line and it looked like it would give the Cubs a 6-2 lead. The wind blew the ball a couple of feet foul. Heyward then topped one down the line and Moore’s throw bounced away from first, allowing a run to score. But the umpires called — correctly — Heyward out for running inside the line. It’s a call you rarely see. Moore then struck out Addison Russell to keep what could have easily been a 6-2 or 4-2 game at 3-2. 

— Before the first game of this series, a Giant asked in the dugout, “I wonder what some of the Cubs’ numbers would look like at our place?” Anthony Rizzo is a .159 hitter with no homers in 18 career games at AT&T Park, but he had no issues on a night when conditions were worse than they are most nights in San Francisco. Rizzo homered off Moore in his first two at-bats. 

— Rizzo will occasionally put a bunt down to beat the shift — he had an accidental bunt in his third at-bat — which the Giants have long wanted Brandon Belt to do. Belt pushed one away from the shift in the sixth, and even though it was too close to pitcher Kyle Hendricks, the throw was off and Belt reached second. One of those a week would open up a few more holes. 

— This lineup has made a habit of making mediocre and downright bad pitchers look good, and the actual good ones are taking advantage, too. A night after Jon Lester recorded his first complete game of the year, Hendricks threw seven innings for the first time.