ST. LOUIS -- Despite an 8.20 ERA in four career games at Busch Stadium, Barry Zito swears he loves pitching here.
After all, it's the ballpark he married into. Zito's wife, Amber, a former Miss Missouri, grew up just a few hours down the road, in Oran, Mo.
"St. Louis is definitely a special place to me,'' the Giants left-hander said Thursday before Game 4.
Because of his connection, Zito understands better than most what kind of atmosphere awaits him in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Friday.
With the Giants on the brink of elimination and the Cardinals one win away from the World Series, Busch Stadium will be red, white and rockin'.
"Oh, yeah, it's always like a college football game," Zito said.
His job, essentially, is to shut everyone up. It's a task he failed to do in his previous playoff start, when he wobbled through 22/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 4 of the Division Series.
Zito gave up four hits and four walks in that game, and it took terrific relief work from Tim Lincecum for the Giants to elude elimination.
That start was on Oct. 10. Zito has had plenty of time since then to reflect on what went wrong.
"I don't think it was so much mechanical or mental," Zito said. "I think it was just more about nitpicking on the corners too much instead of just being aggressive.
"I'm going to go out there and be aggressive tomorrow and let my defense work
The problem is that in St. Louis, not everyone is as hospitable as his in-laws. Allen Craig is 4 for 10 with three home runs lifetime against Zito. Yadier Molina is 6 for 16 (.375). Matt Holliday has six RBIs in 31 at-bats.
Zito said Thursday that he is unfazed by such statistics because the raw totals don't reflect the circumstances, such as whether the hitter was on a hot streak or whether the hit was a broken-bat blooper.
"You have to look more inside the numbers than just a stat,'' he said. "You actually look at the at-bat."
Zito also noted that he has handled hostile environments before. He takes pride in a playoff start he made while with the A's in 2006. Matched against Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana, in a Metrodome filled with 55,542 fans, Zito allowed just one run over eight innings in a 3-2 victory.
"I just remember how loud it was," he recalled. "And it was just fun. So I'm excited to go out there (Friday) and have some fun."
Zito fared fine in his lone Busch Stadium start during the regular season, on Aug 7, when the Giants won 4-2. The left-hander allowed just two runs over 62/3 innings.
Bruce Bochy is hoping for another performance like that one.
"Barry's had a good year for us. He's won some big games,'' the Giants manager said. "His command, his overall stuff, has been really good. I'm very comfortable with him."