The Cardinals were dominated by an unlikely antagonist on Friday night, and they will be headed back to San Francisco for Game 6.
The St. Louis Cardinals had a 3-1 NLCS lead with a game at home on Friday night. They were facing soft-throwing left-hander Barry Zito, who has struggled mightily in his time with the San Francisco Giants. The situation looked promising for a Cardinals series win and a trip to the World Series.
Zito didn't play his part, as he reverted back to the form that earned him a Cy Young award and a massive contract. He tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings, stunning Cardinals and Giants fans alike. Many want to contribute the performance to luck, but Dan Moore at Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos says this wasn't luck, but just a skilled person happening to have their best performance on a big stage:
And it's not likely to happen again. We use luck, a lot, when we mean lucky circumstances—skilled performances that can be dissected and explained but are also completely unrepeatable. There's some sloppy connotation and conflation going on, probably.
But that isn't a license to draw conclusions from Zito's performance—in fact, it's a clarification of the reasons why you shouldn't. Let's not call it luck; let's call it a brilliant performance. Barry Zito was great, somehow, and the Cardinals were unable to get hold of him. We have 162 games from the Cardinals and 32 from Barry Zito that suggest few soft-tossing pitchers, Zito included, are up to the task of pitching as well as he did Friday night.
The series now switches back to San Francisco for Game 6 and Game 7 if necessary. The Cardinals have to win of of two against Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain. It's not something that is out of the ordinary, as they've already taken one game on the road.They just need to win one more game, since playoff baseball is such a strange breed of animal.