Barry Zito rescues the San Francisco Giants ….. again?

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito throws during the first inning of Game 5 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

BOX SCORE

Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Cardinals 3, Giants 1
Game 4: Cardinals 8, Giants 3
Game 5: Giants 5, Cardinals 0
Game 6: Cardinals (Carpenter) at Giants (Vogelsong), 4:45 p.m. Sunday
Game 7 (if necessary): Cardinals (Lohse) at Giants (Cain), 5:07 p.m. Monday

I didn’t blog after the Giants’ 8-3 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday — not entirely because I was depressed. I was actually busy with other things.

But if I had found the time to blog, this is what I was planning to write.

All hope was not lost, not even with the fact the Giants were behind 3-1 in the National League Championship series, needing once  again to win three consecutive games to advance.

And not because Barry Zito was pitching.

Jayson Stark of ESPN said Wednesday that Game 3 was the game the Giants NEEDED to win, because Matt Cain was on the mound. After Cain came the enigmatic Tim Lincecum (he was right about that one) and then the equally puzzling Barry Zito.

But as someone who has blogged about the Giants all season, I kept thinking back to similar feelings I had about upcoming Zito starts this season.

The situation was this: the Giants were coming off a loss — sometimes a couple of losses — and, oh great, now Zito is pitching.

Then Zito turns in a pearl.

Seven of Zito’s 15 wins this season — that’s almost half — have come on days that followed a Giants’ loss.

It started with  his first win of the season way back on April 9. You remember? Zito was gawd-awful in the spring, stayed in Arizona to “work on some things,” the Giants drop their first three games to the Diamondbacks, then they get Zito pitching in Colorado.

And what did he do? He pitched a shutout, being the Rockies 8-0.

He would do it six more times following a Giants’ loss, including two more when he didn’t allow the opponent to score:

  • June 25 vs. Dodgers, Giants win 8-0
  • July 6 at Pirates, Giants win 6-5
  • August 7 at Cardinals, Giants win 4-2
  • September 9 vs. Dodgers, Giants win 4-0
  • October 2 at Dodgers, Giants win 4-3

Well, Zito did it again on Friday, when the stakes were far higher than they had ever been previously.

He held the Cardinals to no runs on six hits and one walk (which was an intentional walk) while striking out six in 7 2/3 innings, sending the Giants back to San Francisco with the hopes of a pennant still alive.

“I couldn’t be happier for him,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I don’t know how many times we needed to win this year, he found a way to get it done for us.”

Afterwards, Zito knew what the victory meant to him and his team.

“This is definitely it for me,” Zito said. “Coming here, really doing it in a Giants uniform. A lot of people were saying stuff about my A’s days. And for me, the most important thing is doing everything for San Francisco right now.”

And as they have so often this season, the Giants did something for Zito. They got him some runs.

For the second time in this NLCS, the Giants went hitless against Cardinals’ starter Lance Lynn the first time through the lineup.

And for the second time in this NLCS, they jumped on him for a four-run fourth inning.

Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval opened the inning with singles before Buster Posey struck out. Hunter Pence hit a high chopper back to Lynn, who fielded the ball, spun and threw to second. But the ball was low, shortstop Pete Kozma was late in covering, and the ball bounced off the bag and into the outfield, allowing Scutaro to score the game’s first run.

After Brandon Belt popped out — failing to get a runner home from third with less than two out — Gregor Blanco walked. Then Brandon Crawford delivered in the clutch again, as he has before this postseason, smacking a single up the middle to score Sandoval and Pence.

Then Zito made the offensive play of the night for the Giants. After falling behind in the count, he saw David Freese playing deep at third and punched a bunt up the third base line, then hustling down to first for an infield single that scored Blanco with the fourth run.

The play stunned the Cardinals, and even some Giants, too.

“Shocked,” third-base coach Tim Flannery said. “We work on it. We talk about it. But he did that all on his own. It was beautiful – brilliant.”

Said Blanco: “I was thinking, maybe, ball in the dirt, I’ve got to be ready. But I wasn’t expecting that. It was awesome, unbelievable. That’s what I told him: ‘Awesome! Awesome! You’ve got to do it again!’ ”

It wasn’t all Zito after that. Pablo Sandoval added another home run, and the Giants’ defense behind Zito was superb.

But the bottom line is that for the 13th consecutive game that Zito has started, the Giants came away winners.

Incredible. Amazing. Unbelievable.

Now the Giants return home where they will throw Ryan Vogelsong in Game 6, and hopefully Matt Cain in Game 7.

And here’s another amazing thought. If the Giants can pull off another comeback and advance to the World Series, who do you think might get the call at AT&T Park next Wednesday against the Tigers?

Could it be Barry Zito?

Oh, and the last time Zito faced the Tigers, he delivered his only scoreless start of the 2011 season, pitching six scoreless in Detroit on July 2, 2011.

And the Giants scored runs for him, winning 15-3.

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