Barry Zito shuts down Cardinals in Game 5 of NLCS to keep Giants’ season alive

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With the Giants facing elimination, Barry Zito didn’t inspire much confidence coming into his start in Game 5 tonight. However, he turned in the best performance by a Giants’ starting pitcher this postseason while keeping his team’s season alive.

Zito limited to Cardinals to six hits over 7 2/3 shutout innings tonight as part of a 5-0 victory. The win means there will be a Game 6 on Sunday night back in San Francisco.

Despite topping out at just 86 mph, Zito struck out six and walked one (intentional) while throwing a season-high 115 pitches. The intentional walk came at a critical point in the game in the second inning, as it loaded the bases for opposing pitcher Lance Lynn, who grounded into an inning-ending double play. The southpaw was the beneficiary of some excellent defense and home plate umpire Ted Barrett gave him the edge on a few pitches, but this was a mighty impressive performance from an unexpected source.

The Giants chased Lance Lynn in the fourth inning by scoring four runs. The rally was capped by Zito (who else?), who dropped down a bunt and beat it out for a hit to drive in a run. Pablo Sandoval added a solo home run in the eighth inning, his second home run in as many days, for some extra insurance.

Many were ready to write the Giants off after Game 4 last night, but this series is suddenly far from finished. Ryan Vogelsong is lined up to start for the Giants in Game 6 on Sunday while the Cardinals will counter with Chris Carpenter. If there’s a Game 7 on Monday, it will be Matt Cain against Kyle Lohse.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.