Barry Zito came up big when the Giants needed him the most.
Against the Cincinnati Reds, the Giants won three straight on the road to seize the series and advance to the NLCS. Trailing three games to one against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants again needed to win three straight. They accomplished step one of this task on Friday night with a 5-0 win at Busch Stadium.
The series now heads back to San Francisco, where the Giants hope they can complete yet another improbable comeback. Although the Cardinals still lead the series three games to two, the momentum has shifted dramatically.
Barry Zito pitched a great game and departed with two outs in the eighth inning. He didn't give up a run and kept the Cardinals off-balance and off the scoreboard.
Zito even made an offensive contribution in the four-run fourth inning for the Giants. He caught St. Louis third baseman David Freese napping, and he laid down an excellent bunt down the third-base line. Why Freese was playing so deep is something I will never understand.
Zito, who is not very fast, saw Freese playing back, and he legged out the bunt single. This scored Gregor Blanco for the Giants' fourth run of the inning.
The critical moment of the game came when Hunter Pence came to the plate with one out and runners at the corners. He hit a little topper, which Lance Lynn fielded and promptly threw off the second-base bag. The carom sent the ball into center field, enabling the Giants to break through with their first run of the game.
Brandon Crawford, who later came up with two outs, then had a key two-out single to drive in two more runs. Then came the Zito bunt, which pushed the score to 4-0 Giants.
In the eighth inning, Pablo Sandoval blasted a home run off Mitchell Boggs to give the Giants their fifth run of the game.
The Giants also received excellent defensive plays from Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan.
The Giants have now won four straight elimination games. They need two more to win the NLCS and advance to the World Series. The Cardinals only need one victory, but right now, I would call it a toss-up.
Ryan Vogelsong, who has pitched extremely well this postseason, pitches on Sunday for the Giants. He will be facing Chris Carpenter, who struggled in Game 2. Carpenter allowed five runs (two earned) in only four innings of work in that game. He will be making only his sixth start of the year after returning in mid-September from arm surgery.
Carpenter is an excellent big-game pitcher, but one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank after missing almost the entire season. His velocity was down and his command was off in the earlier game in San Francisco. If he does not rebound well, the Giants could tie the series.
Vogelsong has thrown 12 innings in his two postseason starts. He has been very effective, allowing only seven hits and two runs. He has struck out nine and walked five. Vogelsong's 1.50 ERA is excellent, and he has an outstanding WHIP of 1.000.
If Vogelsong and the Giants can win Game 6, then the deciding game will pit Matt Cain against Kyle Lohse. Cain is the Giants ace, a tremendous competitor and a postseason performer.
Cain has proven himself to be at his best when the Giants need him the most. In the 2010 postseason, when the Giants won it all, Cain threw 21.1 innings without allowing an earned run.
In the 2012 playoffs, Cain has been far less effective, allowing nine earned runs in 17.1 innings of work. Even though he has not been as effective, there is no pitcher the Giants would rather have pitch a deciding seventh game than Matt Cain.
Lohse had a great year and finished the season at 16-3, with an ERA of 2.86 and WHIP of 1.090. His postseason stats are also strong, giving up only four runs in 18.1 innings of work.
With Vogelsong and Cain in line to pitch the final two games for the Giants, they have a great chance to win both games. AT&T Park will be incredibly loud and boisterous as 42,000 fans will be screaming their hearts out.
If the NLCS goes the full seven games, the final game figures to be a thrilling and gut-wrenching contest. The Giants and their fans are fond of this kind of torture.
Let's hope we will get to see it, feel it and live it once again.