Every time the Giants seem ready to pack their suitcases for the off-season they earn a stay of execution. San Francisco did it against the Cincinnati Reds when trailing 2-0 in games and now they are doing it against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series where they trailed 3-1 in games. Apparently, the Giants don’t begin to really play until backed into a corner and they have to make a comeback.
The Giants must need added risk or suspense to play their best. They can’t get interested until someone threatens their seasonal existence. It’s still hard to believe that San Francisco made it out of the National League Division Series after falling behind by those two games to the Reds and facing three straight elimination games at the opposition’s home park. Even in Game 3, they wiggled around a Homer Bailey one-hitter for seven innings to win on a passed ball and an error by one run. Who really thought they would would the next two straight, too?
Going into Friday night play, the Cardinals had the Giants just where they wanted them–down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series. San Francisco had already blown through what manager Bruce Bochy had to catalogue as his top starting pitchers. They were relying on delaying the off-season by starting Barry Zito. Sure enough, they won 5-0 with Zito stifling all of St. Louis’ hot hitters.
In 2002, Zito, then with the Oakland A’s, was the best pitcher in the American League with a 23-5 record. He won the Cy Young Award. That was his best year by far, although he eventually signed a century-long, zillion-dollar contract with the Giants. You can’t say San Francisco got its money’s worth, however, since between 2007 and 2011 Zito’s records were 11-13, 10-17, 10-13, 9-14, and 3-4. Zito went from having the most wins in the American League one season to having the most losses in the National League with those 17. He pretty much became an after-thought on the Giants’ staff, lucky to still have a job.
Until 2012, when all of a sudden the Zito of old reappeared. It was as if someone had let the original Barry out of a closet. This season he went 15-8 and was on a hot streak coming into the playoffs. Then he reverted to Bad Barry and was even yanked out of the rotation. As this series with the Cardinals went on, though, Bochy was running out of arms. No pressure, Mr. Zito, but this time you had to be a difference maker.
And he was. The reason the Giants live to play another day–Sunday–is because Zito pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball. October resurrections are memorable and fascinating. There’s still no guarantee the Giants will out-last the Cardinals and reach the World Series, but Zito put them in position. Zito needed this and so did the Giants.
The scary thing for the Cardinals is that throughout the post-season, against the Reds and now St. Louis, the Giants have resembled no other team but the 2011 Cardinals. Everyone knows how that turned out. Last year St. Louis lived on the edge throughout the playoffs, deflecting every threat, and ended up as World Series champs. The Cardinals better be careful. The same thing might happen to them this year. They don’t want to experience life on the flip side.