With the Cardinals ready to celebrate a return trip to the World Series with a victory Friday night, Zito instead sent the National League Championship Series back to San Francisco by turning in a spectacular performance, leading the San Francisco Giants to a 5-0 win.
Game 6 of the series, with the Cardinals leading 3-2, is Sunday night. Chris Carpenter will start for St. Louis against Ryan Vogelsong in a rematch of the Game 2 pitching matchup.
Zito, who was knocked out of his only start in the NL Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds in the third inning, picked up his first win in a postseason start since the 2006 AL Division Series when he pitched for the Oakland A's. The left-hander limited the Cardinals to six hits and one walk, which was intentional, while striking out six over 7 2/3 innings.
After getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning, Zito cruised through the seventh, allowing only a leadoff double by Allen Craig in the fourth and a two-out single by Daniel Descalso in the seventh, retiring 16 of the 18 batters in that stretch, including 11 in a row between the fourth and seventh.
By that time the Giants' offense had already knocked out St. Louis starter Lance Lynn and given Zito more than enough runs for the victory. They added an extra run in the eighth on Pablo Sandoval's second home run in as many nights.
Zito had made only one previous start in a league championship game in his career, for Oakland in 2006, when he failed to get out of the fourth inning against Detroit.
Beginning with his start on Aug. 7 in St. Louis and including his start last week in the Division Series, when the Giants rallied to win, San Francisco has won the last 13 games that Zito has started, with eight of the wins going to Zito. He threw 115 pitches, 73 for strikes, the most pitches he has thrown in a start in more than two years.
Lynn, who struck out four consecutive batters in the first and second innings, could not get out of the fourth inning for the second time in this series.
His own throwing error, on a play at second base when the throw hit the base, contributed to the four-run inning which knocked him out of the game. Brandon Crawford's bases-loaded single up the middle on a 3-2 pitch drove in two runs and a perfectly placed bunt by Zito drove in the final run of the inning. All of the runs were unearned because of Lynn's throwing error, the second by a St. Louis pitcher in the series.
Joe Kelly relieved Lynn and finally got the third out by striking out Angel Pagan.
The Cardinals' best scoring chance in the early innings came in the second. Yadier Molina singled to open the inning and David Freese followed with a double, both on the first pitch from Zito. After Descalso struck out, the Giants intentionally walked Pete Kozma to load the bases. Lynn, who did not have a hit in the regular season after April 20, a span of 43 at-bats, broke his bat grounding into a double play to end the inning.
Craig led off the fourth with a double for the Cardinals, but was stranded on third.)
Notes: Carlos Beltran was back in the Cardinals' starting lineup in right field after missing Game 4 because of a strained left knee. He received an acupuncture treatment during the day on Friday, following by 4 1/2 hours of treatment at the ballpark before being cleared to play. ... Also in the lineup was outfielder Matt Holliday, whose mother, Kathy, underwent surgery for colon cancer Thursday at a St. Louis-area hospital. Holliday said the doctor told him he was pleased with the results of the surgery. ... After having Hector Sanchez catch Tim Lincecum in Game 4, the Giants went to the lineup they used in the first three games of the series, with Buster Posey catching and Brandon Belt at first base.