Barry William Zito could not reach back for a 94 mph fastball. He is not equipped with those any more. But he could reach back into his memory for a double shot of confidence and precision, and that was good enough to breathe fresh life into his Giants.
Zito threw 72/3 of the most improbable shutout innings in postseason history Friday night to lead the Giants to a 5-0 victory in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. The man who won a Cy Young award 10 years ago did not dispute the suggestion that this was the greatest start of his career.
"Probably the biggest one for me," he said.
The Cardinals lead the best-of-seven series three games to two, and yet the Giants survived a do-or-die Game 5 to get exactly what they wanted: Games 6 and possibly 7 in San Francisco with their two best pitchers lined up to start.
The Giants now have won each of Zito's last 13 starts. It was Zito, of all people, who became the first Giants starter to pitch into the eighth inning this postseason.
"I couldn't be happier for him," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
The Giants bunched four hits in the fourth inning -- good for four runs, all unearned. They got two hits in the other eight innings, one a home run from Pablo Sandoval.
The key play: The Giants had men on first and second and one out in the fourth when Cardinals starter Lance Lynn fielded a comebacker and tried for a double play instead of taking the sure out at first base.
Lynn's throw to second base hit the bag and caromed into center field. One run scored, Brandon Crawford singled home two more and Zito singled home a fourth with a magnificent drag bunt.
"He surprised a lot of people there," Bochy said, "including us."
It has been six years since the Giants lavished $126 million upon Zito, pushing aside Barry Bonds to anoint Zito as the face of the franchise.
That did not last, and neither did his fastball. Tim Lincecum emerged, and so did Matt Cain. So did Madison Bumgarner, and even Jonathan Sanchez. In 2010, when the Giants won the World Series, they omitted Zito from their playoff roster. Instead of causing a stir, he pitched simulated games, just in case someone else got hurt.
They gave him one playoff start this year, and he did not survive the third inning. When Bumgarner's arm essentially gave out, they gave Zito one more, basically out of desperation.
"Tough kid," pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "He's not a kid. Tough man."
Zito did not overpower anyone, but he did not fear putting an 84 mph pitch in the vicinity of home plate. He can't win for nibbling around the corners.
"I was living pitch to pitch, moment to moment," Zito said. "The defense picked me up."
Carlos Beltran got to second base in the first inning, but third baseman Sandoval dove to catch a line drive and end the inning. The Cardinals had runners at second and third with no outs in the second inning, but Daniel Descalso struck out -- swinging at an 84 mph fastball. After an intentional walk, Lynn grounded into a double play.
In the fourth inning, Allen Craig led off with a double but did not score. In the fifth, Giants right fielder Hunter Pence and second baseman Marco Scutaro each robbed the Cardinals of a hit with magnificent defensive plays.