Barry Zito turns back the clock with gem in Game 5

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10 years after winning a Cy Young Award for the A’s, six years after signing one of the worst contracts in major league history and two years after being left off the postseason roster for the World Series champions, Barry Zito finally came up big for the Giants on Friday.

With his team on the verge of elimination, Zito shut out the Cardinals for 7 2/3 innings in a 5-0 victory, sending the ALCS back to San Francisco for a Game 6 on Sunday.

It was actually the 13th straight start of Zito’s that the Giants have won, but tonight was easily the left-hander’s best outing during the run. He had a 4.04 ERA during the previous 12 starts and had pitched more than seven innings just once.

That surge left Zito with far and away his best win-loss record in six years with the Giants. At 15-8, it was his first season over .500 since 2006, his last year with Oakland. Still, his 4.15 ERA was no better than his marks from 2009 and 2010. He finished with the worst strikeout rate of his career, fanning just 114 batters in 184 1/3 innings. Six years into a seven-year, $126 million deal, he has a 58-69 record and a 4.47 ERA for the Giants.

For one night, though, it hardly matters. Zito’s win tonight was his first in a postseason game since the 2006 ALDS with the A’s. He was a fine postseason pitcher for Oakland, going 4-3 with a 3.25 ERA in seven starts, but the Giants had no need of him when they won the World Series in 2010, opting to  leave him off the roster for all three series while they went with a rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner.

And if not for Bumgarner’s struggles in Game 1, Zito may never have gotten the call in this series, either. The Giants were lining up Lincecum for Game 4, and Bumgarner was initially supposed to pitch Game 5. It was Bumgarner’s 11.25 ERA in two postseason starts that led to the change of heart.

Now Zito is the hero, turning in the best start by a Giants hurler in 10 postseason games to date. If his teammates can help him out Sunday and Monday, then he’ll be lined up to start a World Series game for the first time in his career.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.