Giants send Barry Zito to mound with season hanging in balance

David Brown

ST. LOUIS — Barry Zito earned his $126 million contract the moment the San Francisco Giants offered it to him the winter before the 2007 season. No matter what happens until the deal expires after next season, the money is Zito's and he can't be made to give it back.

And yet, everyone might feel a little better about the arrangement were Zito to help prevent the St. Louis Cardinals from clinching a World Series berth by helping win Game 5 of the NLCS on Friday night. He might be up to it, too. Zito's results have been better — or they've seemed better — in the later part of this season. He finished with a 15-8 record, which just looks better, and the Giants have won his past 12 starts, going back to Aug. 2.

In the regular season, his ERA in that span was 3.92 — and he didn't pitch particularly well against Cincinnati in the division series round — so it's not all Barry. It's also run support, which Giants hitters will need to give against Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn. But the Giants at least have confidence in Zito, and that wasn't the case in 2010 when he was omitted from the World Series roster. The perception change is huge.

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"You don't win as many games as he's won this year if you aren't throwing the ball well," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's earned this.  And we have all the confidence in Barry tomorrow. We do have to get these bats going, though."

They weren't going places in Game 4, but Tim Lincecum also couldn't give the shutdown performance the team needed. If Zito can keep the Giants closer, it won't seem like the offense has as much ground to cover.  Zito, too, has confidence that he can help keep the season going.

"I'm capable of throwing all my pitches for strikes and keeping guys off balance," Zito said Thursday. "[And] it's not like a new experience to be out there if it is an elimination game."

The formula is simple — just elusive to make work. The Cardinals possess one of the better lineups in baseball, even though Albert Pujols isn't there anymore and Carlos Beltran might or might not be. Beltran said Thursday he hopes to play in Game 5 after he has better-recovered from a sore left leg.

"We saw what [Matt] Carpenter could do [in Beltran's place]," Zito said, referring to Carpenter's home run in Game 3. "I don't think it's a huge drop-off.  All those guys over there are gamers and they're ready to go."

If Zito joins them and gives the Giants a chance to win, the perception of Zito and what he's worth will continue to improve. Paying someone $127 million doesn't sting as much as long as the team wins.

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