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.

Struggling Francisco Rodriguez’s job seems to be secure

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Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez continued to struggle on Thursday, allowing a run in a 2-1 loss to the Mariners. It’s the sixth time in nine appearances that the right-handed veteran has allowed a run, bumping his ERA up to 6.23. He’s blown two saves and has two losses on the year.

Despite that, it doesn’t sound like Rodriguez’s job as the Tigers’ closer is in any jeopardy, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. When asked how much of a leash Rodriguez has, manager Brad Ausmus said, “I’ll let you know.” Ausmus continued, “I think people have short memories. This guy did a pretty good job for us last year. Early on, people were worried because the velocity was down. Well, the velocity is back.”

“But at some point,” Ausmus said, “he does have to pitch the way he pitched last year, because he did an outstanding job for us last year and in a city that has been looking for a closer that was consistent for a long time, he was that.”

Rodriguez, 35, doesn’t have the stuff he once did. And the Tigers do appear to have someone who would be a better option in high-leverage situations. Lefty Justin Wilson has thrown 9 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings so far this season with 15 strikeouts and three walks. But for now, it sounds like Rodriguez will be free to work through his issues.

The Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field

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Don’t look now, but the Nationals have the best record in baseball at 16-6. They’re coming off a 10-game road trip in which they went 9-1, including sweeps of the Braves and Mets and a 3-1 series against the Rockies at Coors Field. During that series with the Rockies, the Nationals scored 46 runs, which is nearly as many as the Royals (54) have scored all season long. The Nats scored double-digits in all three wins.

The first game at Coors, an 8-4 loss, saw a three-hit game from Anthony Rendon and a homer from Ryan Zimmerman.

The second game featured Trea Turner hitting for the cycle and driving in seven runs. Daniel Murphy had three hits and five RBI.

The third game saw Turner finish a triple short of the cycle. Bryce Harper had four hits. Zimmerman had three hits including a homer. Murphy homered, too.

The fourth game featured homers from Adam Eaton, Harper, and Murphy. Seven members of the lineup had multiple hits and six had multiple RBI including pitcher Gio Gonzalez.

The series helped the Nationals bring their run differential to +34, the best in the National League. The Yankees are the only team with a better differential at +35.

Indeed, the Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field. They return home to open up a three-game set with the ailing Mets on Friday night.