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NLCS Gm5: Lynn previews his Game 5 start

ST. LOUIS -- The Giants are nothing if not experienced in the situation they'll face Friday night at Busch Stadium. That's about the best they can say about it.

Because what they are facing is elimination from this National League Championship Series, this 2012 season. Unless Barry Zito can silence a Cardinals lineup notoriously tough on lefties. Unless the bats can get to Lance Lynn and that Cards bullpen. Unless the pesky club we saw in Cincinnati last week comes back to the forefront.

Otherwise, Game 5 will be a Cardinals coronation, a celebration of the storied squad's second consecutive NL pennant, and fourth in the past decade.

So, what's it going to be? We'll find out at 8:07 p.m. ET on Friday on FOX.

"We know how good their team is," Cards center fielder Jon Jay said of the Giants. "We saw that in the Cincinnati series. They were down 0-2, and they came back. So for us, we've just got to come out ready to play the way we can and do everything we can to get a win."

In a situation such as this, all eyes turn to the starting arm with the most on the line.

And so, all eyes turn to Zito. He's made strides this season in refuting his reputation from that of an overpaid arm past his prime. Now Zito has to take it a step further and become a postseason stopper.

Just last week, the Giants turned to Zito in a similar situation, and the results were uncomfortable enough for Bruce Bochy to yank the lefty after just 2 2/3 innings. Eventually, Tim Lincecum came on the scene to shut down the Reds and let the Giants run away with that win, forcing a Game 5. Now, it is Zito, in a more extended sense, coming on in relief after Lincecum was unable to apply his 'pen success to a start against St. Louis in Thursday's 8-3 loss.

"It was an elimination game last time I pitched," Zito said. "So it's not like a new experience to be out there if it is an elimination game."

No, it's not, but Zito is facing a Cardinals club that knows how to finish and will be extremely eager to do so in front of a ravenous home crowd.

"We want to wrap it up just to wrap it up," David Freese said. "But if you can do that here with these fans and with your family and friends, even better."

Zito will have to be better than the rest if he's going to tame this Cards lineup. St. Louis had the best batting average (.276), the best on-base percentage (.338) and the second-best slugging percentage (.450) in the NL against southpaws this season. The Redbirds also have a little bit of momentum, if such a thing does indeed exist, having finally gotten some key contributions from the middle of the order in the Game 4 victory.

That's what Zito is up against, and the Giants expect him to deliver, much like he has throughout the course of a stretch in which they haven't lost a game he's started since Aug. 2.

"He's thrown some pretty big games for us," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "In September, he might have been our best starter. He has the ability to change speeds, he has the ability to not pitch in patterns. If he throws how he threw in September, he'll be fine."

Is Carlos Beltran fine? That's one of the big questions facing the Cardinals going forward. He could be back in action in Game 5, if his left knee cooperates. Beltran said before Game 4 that the knee allows him to hit from both sides of the plate, but playing the field was an issue. After the game, Beltran said he was optimistic about his chances of getting back in the lineup for Game 5.

"Right now, the plan is to come [Friday] and do what I have to do to be in the lineup," the outfielder said. "[Thursday] was a better day for me, better than [Wednesday]. I was able to go in the cage, hit a lot and work on both sides, righty and lefty. Mike [Matheny] knew that I was available to pinch-hit if they needed me. [Friday] is a day where I need to go for it."

St. Louis is going for it with Lance Lynn on the hill. Lynn, like Zito, comes with his own set of questions. The righty struggled in his Game 1 start, giving up four runs in 3 2/3 innings. It could be that his workload -- bouncing back and forth between starting and relieving -- is catching up with him. Or the Game 1 outcome could have been tied to the fact that Lynn was pitching for the fifth time in 10 days.

"I'm as strong as I've ever been all year, and the playoff start was good to get one," Lynn said. "Wish I could have done better the first time, but I got a lot to learn from that one. I'm looking forward to the next one."

The Cards are looking forward to this opportunity to finish off the Giants at home, because they'd definitely like to avoid another flight to the West Coast and a date with Ryan Vogelsong in Game 6 (and Matt Cain, should it get to Game 7). They need look no further than what happened to the Reds as proof that there is value in finishing these series off as swiftly as possible, lest a sleeping Giant be awakened.

In San Francisco's clubhouse, the players have been in this position before -- and quite recently. The Giants didn't want to get tested in such a manner again, but they're hoping this is another test they can pass.

"There is no day after tomorrow for us if we don't win, so we have to win," Affeldt said. "That's our mentality, and it can be dangerous to play teams who have that mentality."

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