(Reuters) - The San Francisco Giants blanked the St Louis Cardinals 5-0 on Friday to stave off elimination and extend the National League Championship Series (NLCS) to a sixth game back at their home ballpark.
A four-run burst in the fourth inning gave Giants starter Barry Zito all the offense he needed. The left-hander kept the Cardinals guessing with a pinpoint fastball, changeup and slow curve as the Giants narrowed the Cardinals' lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Zito, who was left off the postseason roster in 2010 due to poor form when the Giants won the World Series, went seven and two-thirds innings against reigning champions St Louis, holding them to six hits while striking out six.
"I just had to keep them off-balance and put a lot of different things in their head about what's coming up next," Zito said. "I have a few different options and they were all working tonight."
Singles by Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval opened the fourth before a throwing error by St Louis starter Lance Lynn allowed the Giants to score a run and opened the door to a big inning.
Lynn fielded a bouncer from Hunter Pence and threw to second base looking for a force-out, but his low throw hit the bag and bounced into center field. Brandon Crawford followed with a two-run single and Zito brought in another run with a bunt base hit.
Pablo Sandoval added a home run in the eighth inning to cap the scoring.
San Francisco catcher Buster Posey said the 34-year-old Zito, whose fastball falls several ticks short of 90 miles an hour, had everything going for him.
"He pitched," the catcher said. "Pitching at its finest. He moved the ball in and out, up and down, changed speeds. He just did an unbelievable job."
COMPOSURE UNDER FIRE
Zito showed great composure when the Cardinals were able to mount a threat. In the second inning, Yadier Molina led off with a single and David Freese's double to right field gave St Louis runners on second and third with no outs.
However, the San Francisco left-hander struck out Danny Descalso and after an intentional walk to Pete Kozma he got opposing pitcher Lynn to bounce into a double play to end the inning.
The Giants also supported Zito with some nifty fielding, illustrated by all three outs in the fifth.
Pence made a superb diving grab in right field, second baseman Scutaro made a sliding stop, turn and throw for out number two, and center-fielder Angel Pagan raced in to catch one off his shoelaces to end the inning.
"Pence's sliding basket catch was huge, a giant momentum thing because they had the top of the lineup coming up," said Zito. "They were all huge and they motivated me."
The Giants, who overcame a 2-0 deficit in the division round by winning the last three games against Cincinnati, will try to keep their NLCS comeback alive on Sunday when they send Ryan Vogelsong to the mound against Chris Carpenter.
"We're excited because we're going to play at home," said Sandoval. "We're going to go there and have the opportunity to spend one more day with the fans. We're going to play hard, play our game."
American League champions Detroit await the winners in the World Series, which will start on Wednesday in the National League champion's home stadium.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Peter Rutherford)