Zito brings experience to Giants' must-win Game 5

Zito brings experience to Giants' must-win Game 5

ST. LOUIS -- Barry Zito wasn't good enough to participate in the Giants' run to the 2010 World Series championship. Now it's up to him to keep the '12 Fall Classic in their sights.

Two years ago, following a disappointing 9-14 regular season, Zito was left off San Francisco's roster for all three steps of the glory road.

On Friday night (5 p.m. PT on FOX), with the Giants' backs against the wall of a 3-to-1 deficit, the ball is placed in his hand to extend the National League Championship Series and get it back to San Francisco.

NLCS

It is an experienced postseason hand, 2010 notwithstanding. Zito has eight playoff starts, with a sharp 3.45 ERA, on his resume. And he dealt with an elimination game as recently as a week ago, against the Reds in the NL Division Series.

"It was an elimination game the last time I pitched," Zito said. "So it's not like it will be a new experience."

He plans to make it a better experience, personally speaking. The Giants obviously won that Game 4 of the NLDS, but Zito had relatively little to do with it, getting only eight outs in his start.

Zito now hopes to add another chapter to his otherwise convincing comeback story.

Tale of the Tape: Game 5
Barry Zito
Giants
Lance Lynn
Cardinals
2012 regular season
Overall: 32 GS, 15-8, 4.15 ERA, 70 BB, 114 K Overall: 29 GS, 18-7, 3.78 ERA, 64 BB, 180 K
Key stat: Zito lasted only 2 2/3 innings in his first start this postseason, allowing two runs on four hits. Key stat: Lynn went 3 2/3 innings in his Game 1 start, allowing four runs on five hits.
At Busch Stadium
2012: 1 GS, 1-0, 2.70 ERA
Career: 4 GS, 1-3, 8.20 ERA
2012: 12 GS, 9-4, 3.28 ERA
Career: 13 GS, 9-5, 3.13 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 1 GS, 1-0. 2.70 ERA
Career: 9 GS, 2-6, 4.89 ERA
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 6.00 ERA
Career: 2 GS, 0-2, 7.15 ERA
Loves to face: Carlos Beltran: 10-for-44, 9 K
Hates to face: Allen Craig: 4-for-10, 1 2B, 3 HR, 4 RBIs
Loves to face: Marco Scutaro: 2-for-8
Hates to face: Hunter Pence: 3-for-8
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Zito won his only start against the Cardinals this season, allowing only two homers to Allen Craig and six other hits in 6 2/3 innings. Why he'll win: Lynn was significantly better at Busch Stadium this season than on the road, posting a 9-4 record and 3.28 ERA at home.
Pitcher beware: After ending the regular season with five wins in as many starts, Zito walked four batters and allowed four hits and two runs in 2 2/3 innings in NLDS Game 4. Pitcher beware: In his Game 1 Start, Lynn's pitch count rose quickly. He finished with 85 pitches in those 3 2/3 innings and allowed two extra-base hits.
Bottom line: After being considered for the Game 4 start that went to Tim Lincecum, Zito gets his second postseason outing of 2012 at a pivotal juncture in the series. Bottom line: Lynn didn't allow the Giants to break through until the fourth inning in Game 1. If he can recapture that early-game brilliance, the Cards will be in solid shape.
"We've been winning a whole bunch behind him," said Giants outfielder Hunter Pence. "I'm looking forward to his start. We have all the confidence in him."

Added Buster Posey, who may stay at first base as Hector Sanchez takes another turn behind the plate to catch Zito, "He's accomplished a lot on the mound. I'm looking forward to him being out there."

This season, Zito notched 15 wins, three more than he had totaled in 2010-11, and gaining that renewed faith of his team and his manager.

Thus Bruce Bochy has no misgivings about entrusting the Giants' fate to Zito.

Those 2 2/3 innings against the Reds, in which Zito allowed four hits and four walks, were an unwelcome flashback to his shakier times.

"I was nitpicking the corners too much," Zito said, "instead of just being aggressive. Which I will be [Friday], and let my defense work for me."

Thinking back nine days, and adjusting accordingly, will be relatively easy for Zito, who had to revert a lot further to remind himself what had made him a big winner.

"It's mostly about going out there and enjoying the experience and really having fun," said Zito. "It's productive for all of us to go back and look at some good tape and see what we were doing and what kind of pitch sequences worked.

"When you look at those tapes, you realize there isn't that big of a difference between the good games and the tough games."

Preparing for this start, Zito checked out the tape of a very good game: his Aug. 7 start in St. Louis against the Cardinals, in which he went 6 2/3 innings and allowed two runs without issuing a walk.

The other significance of that outing? It was the beginning of the Giants' ongoing streak of 12 consecutive wins in Zito starts.

"Basically, I looked at what their guys do against left-handed pitching," said Zito, reviewing his video-watching habits. "Certain guys have certain tendencies on certain pitches. Things they don't like, things they prefer.

"I know these guys," he said of the Cardinals. "These guys know me."

Here is something Zito knows about one of those guys, Carlos Beltran, the postseason monster: he has kept the switch-hitter in check, holding him to a .227 average, with four doubles his only hits for extra bases.

Beltran has a balky left knee that might again keep him out of the lineup, and Zito called his possible absence "definitely a positive."

Another positive for Zito in Busch Stadium is a large contingent of supporters.

"My wife is from two hours south of here," said Zito, "and we get a lot of the family come up."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.