ST. LOUIS — The Giants waited quite a while for this kind of performance from Barry Zito.
The soft-tossing left-hander was at his best Friday night, pitching San Francisco back into the NL Championship Series with a 5-0 win over the Cardinals, cutting the series deficit to 3-2.
"This is definitely it for me," Zito, 34, said. "Coming here, especially doing it in a Giants uniform. A lot of people were saying stuff about the A's days. And for me, the most important thing is doing everything for San Francisco right now."
The Giants' win in Game 5 sent the series to San Francisco. Game 6 begins Sunday in the twilight at AT&T Park, with Ryan Vogelsong pitching against the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter.
Zito looked like the same guy who won the 2002 AL Cy Young award with the A's. He retired 11 batters in a row in one stretch while scattering six hits with six strikeouts in 7⅔ innings. St. Louis did not muster much even though Carlos Beltran returned from a strained left knee to the starting lineup and went 1-for-4.
It was Zito's first postseason win since 2006, shortly before he left the A's and signed a $126 million, seven-year contract with San Francisco.
Zito was left off the postseason roster when the Giants won the 2010 World Series because he had pitched so ineffectively. He started Game 4 of the division series against the Reds earlier in this year's playoffs and lasted only 2⅔ innings.
"I couldn't be happier for him," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He had it all going. He put on quite a show."
The defending champion Cardinals might have thrown away a chance to clinch a second straight World Series trip. Pitcher Lance Lynn's toss on a possible forceout deflected off the second-base bag, paving the way for the Giants' four-run fourth.
"I don't mind him being aggressive if he's got the play," manager Mike Matheny said. "(Shortstop Pete) Kozma was in the right place, (Lynn) just made a low throw.
"And to do it over again, I'm sure he'd like to take the easy out at first base."
Pablo Sandoval homered for the second straight night and Zito made a rare offensive contribution with a perfectly executed bunt for an RBI single.
Giants defenders made several nice plays behind Zito, including a juggling catch in right by Hunter Pence and a spectacular sliding stop by second baseman Marco Scutaro to rob pinch-hitter Shane Robinson on consecutive at-bats.
Once again this postseason, the Giants benefited from a big error.
Needing three straight wins at Cincinnati to avoid elimination in the division series, San Francisco began its comeback on a bobble by third baseman Scott Rolen in the 10th inning that gave the Giants the go-ahead run in Game 3.
The Giants improved to 4-2 on the road this postseason and have won Zito's past 13 starts.
National League Championship Series
Cardinals 3, Giants 2
Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Cardinals 3, Giants 1
Game 4: Cardinals 8, Giants 3
Friday: Giants 5, Cardinals 0
Sunday: at San Francisco, 7:37
Monday: at San Francisco, 8:07*
TV: All games Ch. 13
* If necessary
American League Championship Series
Tigers 4, Yankees 0