It’s been a long time coming for San Francisco Giants fans to see the kind of performance they got from Barry Zito last night in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Zito, who has been mostly a disappointment since signing a big-money free-agent contract following the 2006 season, reached back and found some of his old self.
The Zito who won the 2002 Cy Young Award or who outdueled Johan Santana back in 2006 when both were still aces in the American League playoffs, made an appearance last night in St. Louis. Zito worked 7.2 IP of shutout baseball with the Giants season on the line and made sure this series will go back to San Francisco thanks to Friday night’s 5-0 win.
Zito not only outpitched, but he outhit and out-fielded St. Louis counterpart Lance Lynn. The Cards had a chance for some runs in the second inning when they loaded the bases with one out. Zito induced Lynn to hit into a double play. Then in the top of the fourth it was time for the Giants’ offense. A crucial throwing error by Lynn brought in one run, Zito dropped a two-out bunt single for another and San Fran’s four-run outburst gave them a lead that would never be threatened.
On the positive side for St. Louis, Carlos Beltran returned to the lineup last night and had a single and a stolen base in the first inning. And even though the Cardinals missed a chance to clinch at home, they can look at the bigger picture and say it probably wasn’t realistic to think they’d go 2-0 with Lynn on the mound, and they’d already bailed out their struggling starter with a Game 1 win.
It’s really Game On in this series right now when the MLB playoffs resume Sunday night out west. Ryan Vogelsong will pitch for San Francisco and he’s been brilliant in two postseason starts, one of them a must-win in Cincinnati, the other in Game 2 of this series.
Chris Carpenter will pitch for St. Louis. His recent postseason heroics need no introduction, although they didn’t include the aforementioned Game 2 when the Giants hit him hard.
And if the series goes to Game 7 on Monday night? Then it’s the battle of aces, Matt Cain and Kyle Lohse. The Cardinal pitcher won the Game 3 battle between the two, but if you’re a Frisco fan, the chance to get Cain on the mound at home in a winner-take-all game is exactly what you would have wanted at the outset of the series.
Miguel Cabrera came to the plate in the fourth inning with one on and one out, as he faced C.C. Sabathia in a showdown of the stars in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. It was already looking like Detroit’s day—though their lead was only 2-0, the Tigers had five this and two walks, while the Yanks’ normally reliable Mark Teixeira had committed an error. Not to mention the Yanks had gone 12-up, 12-down and that 2-zip lead looked as solid as it would in hockey.
But when Cabrera won the battle of the stars by hitting a monster home run into left field, it was all over but the shouting. A series that had been at least closely contested in each of the first three games, turned into a rout as Detroit win 8-1 and completed a four-game sweep for the American League pennant.
Delmon Young was one of seven Tigers to have a multiple-hit game and it wrapped up ALCS MVP honors for the designated hitter. With the series being dominated mostly by starting pitching and no starter getting more than one outing because of the sweep, there weren’t a ton of great candidates for the award, but Young was a logical pick. He’d also hit a key home run in Yankee Stadium, had some big RBI base hits and only reliever Phil Coke came anywhere close to impacting the series as much.
As far as yesterday’s game per se goes, there’s really not a lot to say since it was complete domination by Detroit. It reminded me of the clinching game in last June’s NBA Finals. You might recall in that series the Miami Heat led 3-1 in games, but all four had been close, compelling games. But in the finale the roof fell in for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Heat won going away for the home fans.
What’s perhaps more surprising is that the Thunder were a young team and the Yankees are a veteran one, presumably less immune to the complete collapse. And the nature of baseball, with its emphasis on the starting pitcher, should have said that a Sabathia matchup with Max Scherzer should be a win for the Yanks—at the very least a good game. But the big fella didn’t have it, Scherzer tossed five perfect innings before coming out in the sixth, Jhonny Peralta and Austin Jackson tacked on home runs after Cabrera’s big blast and it’s time for Detroit to celebrate.
Because it’s time for Detroit to celebrate, I’m not going to participate in the speculation about what happens in New York this offseason. Yes, it’s an interesting story and important in the bigger picture of baseball in 2013. No, it’s not nearly as important as one team clinching a pennant and getting a shot at its first World Series title since 1984.
Yesterday was about the Tigers continuing their late-season push into the team a lot of people thought they were in March. Congrats to Jim Leyland and his staff, and to Justin Verlander, whose three dominating starts in the postseason over Oakland and New York are lifting him to a new level of greatness.
The late afternoon in Detroit gave way to prime-time in St. Louis yesterday in the MLB playoffs, and the Cardinals moved one win closer to creating a rematch of the 2006 World Series. St. Louis got a great performance from Adam Wainwright, while their own bats chipped away at San Francisco starter Tim Lincecum, then opened it up against the Giant bullpen en route to an 8-3 win.
You can’t blame the leadoff hitters for San Francisco. Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro had two hits apiece in the table-setting spots, but the middle of the order came up short. Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hector Sanchez went 1-for-12 and the one hit was Sandoval’s two-run homer in the ninth inning of a game long decided.
Sanchez was the starter behind the plate last night, as Posey moved to first base and the switch cost San Francisco a run. Pagan, who played even better defensively than he did at the plate, had made started a relay that appeared to have Matt Carpenter gunned at the plate by a decent margin. But Sanchez did not make the play, the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead and the rout was slowly on.
One San Francisco player that deserves some kudos is Hunter Pence. TheSportsNotebook was quite hard on him yesterday for his failure in a couple key at-bats in Game 3. Pence apparently shared the view, telling the media he was a goat and he came out and hit an early home run.
I felt a little guilty over my panning of Pence yesterday, since I wonder if I’d have had the guts to say the same things to his face (answer: probably not). And hearing the player call himself out made me respect him for the effort, even if we can’t ignore the struggles in performance. It was good to see him succeed yesterday.
But no one succeeded like the Cardinals and Wainwright, who went seven strong innings and gave up just one run, exorcising the memory of his poor start in the decisive game of the Division Series against Washington.
Both teams send questionable starters to the mound tonight, with Barry Zito getting the ball for San Francisco, while Lance Lynn goes for St. Louis. The Cards may be up 3-1 in games, but all it takes is one win to push the series back west. San Francisco then has Ryan Vogelsong, who’s been brilliant in two postseason starts and ace Matt Cain would get the ball for a Game 7.
For St. Louis tonight, the question is how much urgency will Cardinal manager Mike Matheny show if Lynn struggles early, like he did in the series opener? With a travel day to reset the bullpen, the guess here is that Matheny doesn’t hesitate to treat it like a Game 7 .
The question for San Francisco is more intangible—we saw how the prospect of getting a series back home did nothing to motivate New York. Will the Giants feel any differently? I’m not saying that a loss means they didn’t try, but given the lack of soap opera drama around this team, the guess here is they at least come out and give tonight everything they’ve got. Right now though, I don’t know that the effort alone is going to be enough. St. Loo just seems to be feeling it.