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Shot at winning series slips from Cardinals' grasp

Shot at winning series slips from Cardinals' grasp

Shot at winning series slips from Cardinals' grasp
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals will board a late-morning flight for the West Coast on Saturday because they couldn't hit a left-hander, which was surprising enough.

That the left-hander was the Giants' Barry Zito made this particular outcome, a 5-0 loss in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, a downright shocker.

On paper, this looked like it would be the Cards' night.

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"You throw that out the window," said third baseman David Freese. "We're not sitting around looking at our numbers against so-and-so. Any guy can come out any given night and 'shove.'"

On Friday, Zito "shoved." He worked 7 2/3 sensational, scoreless innings in a game that began with a slew of missed opportunities for the Cardinals, who still lead the best-of-seven series, 3-2, but will have to punch their ticket to the World Series on enemy turf.

Who could see this coming?

The Cards, after all, were 31-17 in the regular season against left-handed starters, including 17-6 at Busch Stadium. They slugged .450 against lefties, second best in the Majors behind Ryan Braun and the Brewers. Members of the postseason roster entered the night with a .305 average against Zito, and Zito was 2-6 with a 4.89 ERA in nine career starts against St. Louis, including 1-3 with an 8.20 ERA in four starts at the latest iteration of Busch Stadium.

So much for "on paper."

"Zito, he pitched a heck of a game," Freese said with a shrug. "He might have been able to go 12, 13 innings tonight."

The game might have been decided early, as Zito stranded runners in scoring position in the first, second and fourth innings.

The biggest whiff came in the second. Yadier Molina led off with a double and Freese doubled past a diving Hunter Pence in right field, positioning runners at second and third with nobody out in a scoreless game, but Daniel Descalso struck out swinging under Zito's high 84-mph fastball. After an intentional walk to eight-hole hitter Pete Kozma loaded the bases, starter Lance Lynn bounced into a rally-killing double play.

"I think we probably got ourselves out most of the night," said Descalso, pointing to his own at-bat in the second inning. "You have to give [Zito] credit, though. He didn't miss many spots. He was throwing the ball where he wanted to, getting us to swing at some of his pitches. I think we left the zone a lot more than we wanted to tonight."

The Cardinals also squandered a leadoff double in the fourth, by which time the Giants had taken the lead. San Francisco scored four unearned runs in the top of the fourth off Lynn, whose fatal error -- an errant throw that struck second base -- allowed the first run to score.

After the fourth, the Cards did not move a man past first base until Molina took second on defensive indifference with two outs in the ninth. St. Louis finished 0-for-7 with men in scoring position.

"That makes it tough to win," Freese said.

What a change from Game 4, when the Cardinals went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position against Tim Lincecum and Co. for an 8-3 win. Or in Game 3, when the Cards went 2-for-4.

Zito found a way to silence an offense that was clicking the way it did for much of the regular season, with the NL's second-best offense.

"[Zito] was pitching," manager Mike Matheny said. "He was raising eye level. He was in the top of the zone, just above, on the edges, just off. He was moving in and out, back and forth. He was taking speeds off his breaking ball and changeup. That's what pitching is. You don't have to have 99 [mph] on your fastball if you can locate and keep hitters off balance.

"And we never, never did get into a good groove. We had a good opportunity in the second when we had second and third and nobody out, [but a] punchout, walk, double play take a lot of life out of a club. And another opportunity in the fourth. But those were really all we had. In these games, you have to take advantage of those."

Zito had help from his defenders, who made a series of highlight-reel plays. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval snared Allen Craig's line drive in foul ground to end the first inning. Shortstop Brandon Crawford was perfectly positioned to catch a Freese liner with a runner at second base in the fourth. And Pence and second baseman Marco Scutaro made successive defensive saves to rob Kozma and Shane Robinson of hits in the fifth.

"The boys definitely picked me up tonight," Zito said.

The Cardinals will try to do better against righty Ryan Vogelsong in Game 6 on Sunday night at 6:30 CT on FOX.

"San Francisco is a great city, but I wish we weren't going back," Freese said.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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