SAN FRANCISCO -- The significance of Barry Zito's performance in Game 5 of the 2012 National League Championship Series entered Giants lore almost as soon as the contest ended. The facts are easily summoned from memory: Zito's remarkable 7 2/3-inning effort in the Giants' 5-0 victory at St. Louis prompted their comeback from a 3-1 series deficit and accelerated the club's joyride that ended with a World Series title.
In the wake of Zito's official retirement from baseball Monday, it should be mentioned that the breadth of his performance -- he complemented his pitching with a daring two-out bunt single that drove in a run -- was rivaled by its depth. Zito didn't just pitch the Giants farther into the postseason. He pitched himself into his teammates' hearts and minds.
MLB.com caught up with a handful of Giants to capture their thoughts about Zito's tour de force on that evening of Oct. 19. They didn't mouth the stock phrases typically heard when a player delivers in the clutch, such as, "He really stepped up" or "Man, that was huge." What they conveyed was true admiration and genuine appreciation, not just for Zito's excellence on the field, but also for the man himself.
"He showed a fierce competitiveness that few people knew before that game," manager Bruce Bochy said.
"That showed how focused he was at delivering for the team," said left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who Zito has joined in retirement. "... He pitched like he had something to prove and he proved it: Heart and determination."
"The guy was unbelievable," left-hander Javier Lopez said. "He was calm and present in the moment. That was something everybody wanted for him and he wanted for himself."
Zito's Game 5 exploits were so compelling that Lopez still remembers the specifics of the chronology -- including the second inning, when St. Louis had runners on second and third with nobody out. Lopez recalled that Zito, who didn't strike out many hitters, fanned Daniel Descalso to blunt the Cardinals' momentum. Lopez also cited what happened next: An intentional walk that loaded the bases for opposing pitcher Lance Lynn, who obliged by grounding into an inning-ending double play.
"I think you saw the excitement in his eyes when he got out of that inning," Lopez said of Zito. "And then he kind of sailed after that."
The fourth inning also remains vivid for Lopez, who savored the memory of Zito's bunt that scored the rally's fourth and final run and chased Lynn. Lopez referred to this as a "highlight" and added, "I'm sure many pitchers would say the same thing."
A career .102 hitter, Zito refused to be beaten, even if it meant defying baseball orthodoxy by laying down a two-out bunt. Yet this, said Lopez, was more than just a heads-up play. It reflected the Giants' mindset as they won six consecutive elimination games.
"That was kind of the theme of our team that year in the postseason," Lopez said. "If we're gonna go down, we're gonna go down with our best shot."