THIS IS NOT A DRILL
The snark in the headline probably isn't appropriate, but it certainly is heartfelt. It's still hard to believe, even if it can be explained logically.
I remember the last time Barry Zito started an elimination game. I remember it like it was just last week. Because it was. And Zito didn't do well. There's an argument that he got squeezed, okay, but the start fell perfectly in line with pre-game expectations. Zito can always whoa-Zito!, but there is always a stronger likelihood that he will dammit-Zito.
I'm not going to pretend to have a motivational speech ready, like there was before Ryan Vogelsong started Game 3 of the NLDS. I'm not going to update that super-fancy graph from last week, pretending there's data out there that should make us all optimistic. My argument with Zito is this:
Baseball thinks it's so clever, always one step ahead. You spend your time worrying about Matt Holliday, and it's Matt Carpenter who refuses to leave the Giants alone. If you want certainty and manageable expectations, you picked the wrong sport. So while a Zito/Cardinals match-up looks worrisome on paper, it's worth asking again:
Because of talent, history, odds, expectations, yes, all of those. But it wasn't such a big deal when Barry Zito outdueled Wade Miley or Tommy Hanson this year, or when he matched up with ... wait for it ... wait for it ... Lance Lynn and won. The Giants came out on top of those games because Zito did well enough, and the rest of the team did well. Why couldn't that happen again? There's so much focus on Zito right now, that it's easy to forget the Giants can win games on the road by outscoring the other team.
It's not likely the Giants will win a Zito start against the Cardinals. But it's not unlikely. It's not probable, but it isn't improbable. I can't think of a good reason to just write the game off. And if they win Game 5, it's a nifty little must-win situation at home for Game 6. If they win that, things get a little goofy.
First, the Giants need to win Friday's game. And they can do it, even if it looks like there's an innings-eater where an ace should be. The Giants hit Hunter Pence cleanup and Joaquin Arias fifth in two games this season. They won both games. Why not? Baseball is what happens while the rest of us are trying to figure out how baseball works. After Zito allowed 44 runners in 19.1 innings this spring, with a 7.91 ERA, he pitched a shutout in Coors Field for the team's first win of the year. That's the ultimate why-not.
And in those spring games that Zito defiled, he had a 2-1 record. Because why not? And it was as unlikely as a three-game comeback against the Reds in Great American Ballpark, but it still happened.
There are a lot of different paths to a good Game 5, but the main ones are a) don't screw this up, Zito, and b) everyone else has to chip in if Zito screws this up. And they can. Because ... well, you get the idea.
The rest of the lineup:
Angel Pagan - CF
Marco Scutaro - 2B
Pablo Sandoval - 3B
Buster Posey - C
Hunter Pence - RF
Brandon Belt - 1B
Gregor Blanco - LF
Brandon Crawford - SS
Barry Zito - LHP
The default lineup is back out there. Whew. Hit, fellas. Hit enough to get another win for Barry Zito. Prevent a dogpile on the Busch Stadium mound. I don't see why that's not possible.