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.

Mike Napoli and Rays have “mutual interest” in a deal

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times unloaded a lot of interesting news items about the Rays last night, including a report that the Rays might have “mutual interest” in a deal with free agent first baseman/DH Mike Napoli. The Rangers declined Napoli’s $11 million option earlier this month and owe the veteran infielder a $2.5 million buyout.

Napoli, 36, had a strange year in Texas. He turned in 29 home runs, good for 11th-most among AL hitters, but finished the year batting just .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, his -0.5 fWAR was the worst mark of his career to date, but on the bright side, he should come cheap for a team looking to swap out their veterans come spring.

Of course, the specifics of the Rays’ offseason plan have yet to be divulged — or, by all accounts from Topkin, even decided on. The club could go the refurbishment route, changing out some of their higher-paid veterans for a mix of prospects and cheaper aging players; or they could opt for a full rebuild, which Topkin cautions against as it could have a negative effect on the financing of a new ballpark. Either way, the Rays figure to offload some of their bigger contracts this winter, and will need to decide if they want to retain Alex Colome, Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, Evan Longoria and others before pursuing any other major free agents.