ST. LOUIS -- Facing elimination for the fourth time in 11 days, the Giants scripted a new motto: "Do everything you can to get home."
Thanks to Barry Zito, who contributed on the mound and at the plate, the Giants are going back to AT&T Park, and not just to pack up their belongings. Zito was spectacular Friday in a 5-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that cut the Cardinals' lead in the National League Championship Series to 3-2.
"That was the goal coming in," said shortstop Brandon Crawford, who had a two-run single. "We wanted to get this series home and play another day together."
Zito clinched that goal with a performance he called the biggest of his career. The left-hander pitched 72/3 shutout innings in his most important start as a Giant, weathering an early storm to give the lineup a chance to jump on Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn.
The Giants scored four runs in the fourth inning to improve to 4-0 in elimination games. For the fourth time, there was a fiery speech, but this time Hunter Pence wasn't the only one playing the part of reverend. Several players stood up and urged the team to get the series back to San Francisco, where the Giants will start Ryan Vogelsong in Sunday's Game 6 and have Matt Cain waiting for a potential Game 7.
"They're our guys, and they're two of the best in the game," Pence said. "We're excited. Our backs are against the wall again, but we're not going to fold."
Nobody would have blamed Zito if he folded long ago. He hasn't lived up to a massive $126 million contract and was left off the 2010 postseason roster, but Zito never stopped eyeing a potential moment of redemption. Teammates laud Zito for his work ethic and ability to bounce back from rough stretches, of which there have been many.
On Friday, it was mostly smooth sailing.
Zito escaped an early jam when he got Lynn to hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the second.
"We're hoping he'd either hit a fly ball deep or swing and miss," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Lynn did neither, and the Giants took a collective sigh of relief.
"That gave us a little momentum," Crawford said. "Zito being able to pitch out of that was huge for us, and we were able to come back two innings later."
The fourth-inning four-spot started with singles from Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval. With one out, Pence hit a chopper to the mound that looked like the start of a double play, but Lynn fired the ball off second base and into center field, allowing Scutaro to score.
As Pence stood on first base, Roberto Kelly, coaching first base for the first time since getting hit by a line drive last Saturday, leaned over.
"He said, 'That's the break we need,' " Pence said.
Crawford provided the back-breaker with the latest in a series of clutch hits for a young shortstop with a habit of coming through in big spots. Crawford scorched a run-scoring triple to get the Giants on the board in Game 5 of the NLDS; this time it was just a well-placed ground ball up the middle on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded that brought two runs home.
"Lynn needed to throw a strike," Crawford said. "He didn't have anywhere else to put me."
The position players have talked all postseason about getting a big early lead for their starters, but on this night they didn't feel that Zito needed much help.
"One run probably would have been enough with Zito pitching the way he did," Crawford said.
Zito felt otherwise, and on a night when he surprised nearly everyone outside the Giants clubhouse with his magnificent pitching, Zito surprised even his own manager with a perfect bunt down the third base line that scored Gregor Blanco and gave the Giants a 4-0 lead.
It was Zito's first career postseason hit and RBI, and the first bunt single of his entire career.
"I'm known for my Arabian horse gallop," Zito said, smiling. "I'm just not that fast. To bunt for a hit you've got to be perfect, and fortunately it was."
There was nothing lucky about the rest of Zito's night. He kept the Cardinals off balance, retiring 15 of 16 starting with Lynn's double-play grounder to short. When Daniel Descalso threatened to start a rally with a two-out single in the seventh, Zito threw an 85 mph fastball past Pete Kozma to get out of the inning.
Zito became the first Giants starter this postseason to come out for the eighth inning and was removed after two outs as the infielders ran to the mound to pat him on the chest. Zito gave up six hits, walked one, struck out six and threw 115 pitches, his most since Aug. 6, 2010, a span of 80 starts.
"I couldn't be happier for him," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He put on quite a show."
The win was the Giants' 13th straight in a game started by Zito and guaranteed a fifth elimination game for a team that looks very relaxed when backs are against the wall.
"Everyone counted us out four or five times this year already," said Vogelsong, the Game 6 starter. "It's not over until the last out is made."