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.

Miguel Cabrera has two herniated discs in his back

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Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera underwent an MRI which revealed two herniated discs in his back, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports. With six games remaining in the season, if Cabrera plays again, it will be as a designated hitter.

The back issues shed a lot of light on Cabrera’s uncharacteristically subpar season. He’s batting .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI in 529 plate appearances this season. He carries an adjusted OPS of 92, which is eight points below the league average and 14 points below his previous career low set in 2003 with the Marlins.

Cabrera, 34, is signed through 2023 and is owed a minimum of $192 million through the end of his contract.

MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.