ST. LOUIS How does this sound? The Giants' 2012 season is riding on Barry Zito.
Before you call this scenario a nightmare, it was the Giants who painted themselves into this corner of looming elimination and ultimate irony.
Their 8-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, giving the defending World Series champions a 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series, has been coming. You've seen it coming, haven't you?
What has the Giants' 2012 season been but a masterful dodging of imminent disaster by manager Bruce Bochy and the Giants' brass?
Considering all the body blows and roster challenges the Giants faced from the beginning of spring training, it's amazing they've gotten this far.
That they won the N.L. West going away is a testament to Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean. That they came back from two games down to win three straight games in Cincinnati to eliminate a superior Reds team in the divisional playoffs? Unbelievable.
But to beat special teams like the Cardinals, you can't just show up with a bag of tricks and a busload of crossed fingers. You can't just tweak a lineup where no one is hitting or insert a fallen superstar pitcher back into the starting rotation and hope he's regained his magic after a few good relief appearances.
That was the plan Thursday move Hunter Pence down in the order, move Pablo Sandoval up, sit Brandon Belt, play Hector Sanchez and pray like heck for Tim Lincecum to be what he once was.
You saw what happened. The Giants unraveled with their biggest weaknesses laid bare.
Lincecum was statistically among the worst starting pitchers in baseball this season though he pitched well in postseason relief. But Thursday was like many a Lincecum start particularly those in the first half of the season.
Lincecum was only in because Madison Bumgarner, another 2010 pitching hero, ran out of gas. With the exception of Ryan Vogelsong on Monday and Matt Cain in a losing effort Wednesday, the Giants vaunted starting pitching has been dismal in the postseason and was again Thursday.
How are you going to win October baseball that way? How can you win without the ability to play clean games?
A critical misplay in Thursday's game, a play that had to be made and wasn't, occurred when rookie catcher Hector Sanchez couldn't field the relay throw to tag out Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter at home in the fifth inning. That gave the Cards a 3-1 lead instead of keeping it at 2-1 with a huge emotional boost of a successful play at the plate for the Giants.
"That was a big play," Bochy said.
Sanchez also looked lost in the batter's box, but it's hard to fault a 22-year-old kid with his kind of promise. Besides, Sanchez was in there because for some reason, Lincecum and Buster Posey don't work well together.
Everyone denies that there is a problem between Lincecum and Posey, but there it is: Posey could become the N.L. MVP, but when Lincecum throws, Posey is typically at first base. It's a weird situation; Bochy managed it well in the regular season. In these games, underlying flaws push you toward elimination.
Maybe Posey makes the play, but then again, the guy Posey replaced at first base Brandon Belt is hitting .167 this postseason.
The Cardinals are making no secret of carefully pitching to Posey. They are daring the Giants to hurt them with someone else. Despite home runs by Pence and Sandoval on Thursday, the strategy has worked.
Stop Posey, stop the Giants.
Would it have been so terrible to bring Melky Cabrera back for this series? Steroid cheat or no, he's served his penalty, would have been eligible to play and is sorely missed in the lineup despite being a pariah. I get why the Giants didn't bring him back, but there is still a gaping hole where Cabrera used to stand in left field.
And now the Giants cling to a life preserver named Zito as they paddle madly away from approaching elimination. The irony of that after Zito's tortured stint and bloated contract is mind blowing.
Then again, you can't count the Giants out until they are out. It would just be like them to improbably win with Zito today and go back to San Francisco with Vogelsong and then Cain on the hill.
Stranger things have happened.