Giants regain momentum as NLCS heads west

Giants regain momentum as NLCS heads west

Giants regain momentum as NLCS heads west
With one team sweeping its way into the World Series and a home team on the cusp, suddenly the 2012 postseason was looking like it was falling into some sense of order after weeks of utter chaos.

Not so fast, said the Giants. Hold on right there, said Barry Zito.

The Giants made a resounding statement in St. Louis on Friday night, securing a 5-0 victory in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. With the American League champion Tigers lying in wait following their conquest of the Yankees, the NLCS is now headed back to San Francisco with a shift of momentum to go along with the change in scenery.

NLCS

After some travel to the West Coast and a day off Saturday, the two teams will be back at it with a Game 6 matchup Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX. It will be Game 2 star Ryan Vogelsong on the mound for the Giants against all-time postseason star Chris Carpenter for the Cardinals.

As far as the Giants are concerned, the existence of a Game 6 at home is a victory in itself.

"It's going to be a battle and we are just excited that we're going home and still playing ball at this point," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But we have a good one going and so do they. So it's going to be a great game and we look forward to it."

And now the 2012 postseason is back to hanging in the balance, much like it was through the Division Series round. For the first time, all four Division Series matchups went to a decisive Game 5, with the Cardinals and Giants both making incredible comebacks to advance.

As it turns out, the Tigers are the outliers so far, the one team during this contentious October tournament that has managed to win a series without hardly a bit of angst -- that after considerable stress in their Division Series against the upstart A's. Detroit certainly had no thoughts of elimination with its American League Championship Series sweep of the Yankees, and now the Tigers know their opponent will have at least one more game to go before earning a spot in the Fall Classic.

In the NLCS, the defending but artfully rearranged World Series champion Cardinals had a golden opportunity to claim another pennant at home Friday night. But then Zito happened, and the Giants staved off elimination for the fourth time in as many tries this postseason.

A talented and likable left-hander whose huge contract had been considered an albatross for its first five years, Zito kept the Giants' season soaring by pitching brilliantly into the eighth inning of a shutout victory at Busch Stadium.

With timely hitting contributing to the cause, Zito was the story by holding the Cardinals lineup scoreless on six hits while striking out six. It was the Giants' 13th consecutive win with Zito on the mound dating back to the regular season (yes, that includes the Division Series Game 3 dud), and no start was bigger than this one in Zito's six years with the club. Remember, this is a veteran who was left off the 2010 postseason roster altogether, so coming up big in this situation was a whole different ballgame.

"I was living pitch to pitch, moment to moment, and looking back on it, things worked out and the defense picked me up," Zito said.

So did the offense, with Zito chipping in with an RBI bunt single, Brandon Crawford knocking in a pair and Pablo Sandoval knocking his third postseason homer. And now the NLCS is a battle again.

In Game 6, it will be a mound rematch of Game 2, in which Vogelsong delivered the Giants' first quality start of the postseason and Carpenter had one of the shortest outings of his illustrious postseason career.

History, however, remains on the Cardinals' side. Of the 14 teams that have taken a 3-2 advantage in the NLCS, 12 of them have advanced to the World Series. That said, two teams that won LCS Game 5 on the road have gone home to sweep in a seven-game series: the 2007 Red Sox and 1996 Braves.

The Cardinals were in this very spot just last year -- hitting the road to try and earn a spot in the World Series, and doing so in Game 6 against the Brewers en route to the franchise's 11th title. Guess what? The Giants were also in this spot, in 2010, dropping Game 5 at home before closing it out in Philadelphia.

"We're still up in the series," said Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso. "We would like to have won [Friday night] and not have to go back to San Francisco, but nothing has been easy for us. So we'll be ready to go on Sunday."

Said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny: "We never [thought] for a second that these guys are going to go away. They're a good team, and they're going to keep fighting, we know that."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.