ST. LOUIS -- The message of the day, Hunter Pence said, was not one he needed to deliver in a passionate speech. It was an understanding coursing through the Giants' clubhouse before Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night.
"The motto right now is find a way to get back to San Francisco," Pence said before the game. "That can change the tide. You have to face a tough one here, and get out of St. Louis, and get home. That's the motto, we've got to do everything we can to get home."
The Giants, with a 5-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, did just that, and now it's back to the shores of McCovey Cove, where Ryan Vogelsong awaits in a Game 6 that will be played Sunday not in the Midwestern chill but before the orange-clad masses at AT&T Park.
A night after the Cardinals jumped on Tim Lincecum early, left-hander Barry Zito navigated a rocky second inning to author perhaps the best and indisputably the most important of his last 13 starts, all of which the Giants have won.
After two games in which the Giants couldn't come up with clutch hits with runners on base, Brandon Crawford delivered a full-count, bases-loaded single off Cardinals starter Lance Lynn that proved the linchpin of a four-run fourth inning.
After the Cardinals had played nearly mistake-free baseball for the entire series excluding their Game 2 loss, Lynn made a costly throwing error in the fourth that resulted in all four runs being unearned. And the Giants, behind Zito, made one smooth defensive play after another, keeping the Cardinals off the bases and an expectant crowd of 47,075 at Busch Stadium shivering in their seats.
Zito, who was left off the postseason roster altogether in 2010 and lasted 2 2/3 innings in his lone start of the division series against Cincinnati, never threw his fastball above the mid-80s but kept the Cardinals' hitters guessing all night.
How else to explain Carlos Beltran, owner of the best postseason average and slugging percentage in baseball history, swinging through a letter-high fastball at 85 miles per hour to begin the sixth inning, or Pete Kozma doing the same to end the seventh?
Early on, it was a pitching match-up of power against finesse, in both style and results. Lynn struck out five through the first three innings with a mid-90s fastball and slider that had Buster Posey and Pence flailing at pitches low and away.
Zito gave up a leadoff single to Yadier Molina in the second and then a blooper that fell in front of Pence in right for a double, giving the Cardinals runners on second and third with a chance to seize the momentum and an early lead.
But Zito struck out Daniel Descalso on a fastball and then walked Kozma to load the bases for Lynn. Lynn, swinging away, grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Having come into the game with a career 8.20 earned run average in this stadium, Zito allowed two Cardinals to reach base over the next five innings, and even had a hand in the Giants' rally in the fourth.
Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval singled, Posey struck out and Pence hit a chopper in front of the mound. Lynn fielded it and threw to second, but his low throw hit the bag and bounced into center field, sending Scutaro home and Sandoval to third.
Two batters later, Gregor Blanco walked to load the bases and bring up Crawford. He worked the count full against Lynn, waited on a backdoor slider and shot it back up the middle to put the Giants up 3-0.
Zito then dropped a bunt down the third-base line and, running hard, beat it out for a hit to bring Blanco home. Sandoval added some insurance in the eighth by turning around a high, inside fastball from Mitchell Boggs into the right-field bleachers.
Zito came out for the bottom of the inning and got Beltran to fly out with one on and one out for his last batter. His 7 2/3 innings, over which he scattered six hits and struck out six, marked the longest outing by a Giants starter this postseason. It was the fifth time this season he threw at least seven innings and allowed no runs. It was the first time he had done so in nine career playoff starts.
As manager Bruce Bochy made his way to the mound, the Giants' infielders took turns patting Zito on the chest. The lefty walked off the mound and, hitting the infield grass, jogged the rest of the way to the Giants' dugout and disappeared down the steps.