The San Francisco Giants just might have the St. Louis Cardinals right where they want them.
With a 7 2/3-inning gem from Barry Zito leading the way, the Giants staved off elimination for the fourth time this postseason by recording a 5-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 5, sending the National League Championship Series back to San Francisco and putting St. Louis' bid for a second consecutive World Series appearance at least on hold.
Zito (1-0) scattered six hits and a walk while striking out six in turning in another clutch late-season performance that trimmed the Giants' deficit to 3-2 in this series. The battle-tested lefty also contributed on the offensive end, dropping in an RBI bunt single that capped a four-run fourth inning.
Brandon Crawford knocked in two runs and Pablo Sandoval went 2-for-4 with a solo homer and scored twice to help San Francisco, which battled back from a 2-0 hole to overtake Cincinnati in the best-of-five NLDS, stay alive.
The Giants have now prevailed in each of Zito's last 13 starts, and he's posted an 8-0 mark with a 3.61 earned run average over that outstanding stretch.
"I don't know how many times we needed to win this year, he found a way to get it done for us," said San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy.
Cardinals starter Lance Lynn (1-2) wasn't as effective in failing to make it out of the fourth inning for a second straight NLCS start. The 18-game winner during the regular season surrendered four runs -- though all were unearned due to a costly throwing error of his own doing -- on four hits and a pair of walks along with six strikeouts.
Lynn also lasted just 3 2/3 innings and allowed four runs in St. Louis' 6-4 road win over the Giants in Game 1.
Yadier Molina accounted for two of seven total hits for the reigning world champion Cardinals, who gained the upper hand in this set by earning victories at Busch Stadium in each of the previous two days.
"We never were thinking for a second that these guys are going to go away," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of the Giants. "They're a good team and they're going to keep fighting, we know that. It just comes down to execution. They executed today better than we did."
Lynn mowed through his initial time around the San Francisco order, permitting just one walk and striking out five over the first three innings. But as was also the case in Game 1, he faltered when the Giants turned the lineup over in the fourth.
The right-hander gave up singles to Marco Scutaro and Sandoval to start the frame, then made an errant throw that hit the second-base bag when Hunter Pence tapped a dribbler to the mound two batters later. The miscue enabled Scutaro to score from second without a throw for the game's first run.
Lynn later walked Gregor Blanco to load the bases with two outs, and Crawford made him pay by shooting a ground ball up the middle that brought home Sandoval and Pence for a 3-0 San Francisco lead.
Zito then helped his own cause by astutely laying down a bunt with St. Louis' David Freese situated deep at third base, with the veteran hurler beating the throw to first as Blanco came home and forced Lynn's early departure.
"I thought he was as good as we've seen him all season those first three innings," Matheny said of Lynn. "He looked like he was untouchable. And the fourth, a couple of quick base hits, gets an out, strikeout and [then] the ball back to him. "To do it over again, I'm sure he'd like to take the easy out at first base and then try his luck on [next batter Brandon] Belt.
Didn't work that way, and we were stuck in a spot where it just kind of spiraled at that point in a hurry. And that was the game."
The four-run outburst would be more than enough for Zito, who kept the Cardinals off balance by masterfully changing speeds all throughout the evening.
His only inning of real trouble occurred in the second, when Molina led off with a single and Freese doubled to place two men in scoring position with none out. Zito would fan Daniel Descalso, however, before getting Lynn to bounce into a double play following an intentional walk to Pete Kozma.
Allen Craig doubled to begin St. Louis' half of the fourth, but Zito would set down the next 11 Cardinals batters until Descalso harmlessly singled with two out in the seventh.
"(Zito) had it all going tonight," said Bochy. "He really used his fastball, located it, but had all four pitches going and good command of all of them, very aggressive in the strike zone and laid down a great bunt. He put on quite a show."
St. Louis managed only two more singles over the final two innings, after Sandoval launched a Mitchell Boggs fastball inside the right-field foul pole in the top of the eighth that staked the Giants to a 5-0 advantage.
These teams will next meet Sunday at AT&T Park with a 7:45 (ET) start time. The pitching matchup will be a reprisal of Game 2, with Chris Carpenter taking the ball for the Cardinals and Ryan Vogelsong toeing the rubber for San Francisco.
Right fielder Carlos Beltran was back in the Cardinals' lineup after missing Thursday's contest with a left knee strain he suffered in the first inning of Game 3 and went 1-for-4 with a single in his opening at-bat ... Zito improved to 14-1 when receiving four or more runs of support this season and is now 15-3 in 2012 when pitching a scoreless first inning ... Scutaro's single extended his postseason hitting streak to eight games. He's batting .364 (12- for-33) over that span and is 9-21 (.429) so far in the NLCS.