ST. LOUIS -- David Freese said Barry Zito's fastball can look so gentle that it's like the left-hander is "throwing pillows on a couch."
And he meant that as a compliment after Zito pitched 72/3 shutout innings as the Giants avoided elimination in the National League Championship Series with a 5-0 win Friday in Game 5.
Like other bamboozled St. Louis Cardinals hitters, Freese couldn't lay off the siren call of that easy fastball -- no matter how many times he reminded himself to stay patient.
"You get wide-eyed when the ball is in the mid-80s and kind of high,'' Freese said. "(Zito) understands that, and he's getting swings at high heaters."
Wait a second. Is a ball at that speed still called a heater?
"Absolutely,'' Freese said after going 1 for 4. "When a guy drops in a lot of off-speed stuff and comes back with a heater, I don't care if it's 85 mph. It looks harder than that."
Across the locker room, the Cardinals echoed his frustration. The plan was to stay patient against Zito, letting the soft stuff on the corners sail by while waiting for one of those comfy pillows to come floating over the middle.
Instead, the ball rarely crossed the fat part of the plate. Or as Freese put it: "He stayed out of the white."
Because the Cardinals were so eager to take their hacks, Zito walked only one -- and that was an intentional pass to shortstop Pete Kozma.
St. Louis hitters were especially jumpy in
Freese shook his head. That wasn't the plan.
"You stay patient. You wait for your pitch and you don't miss mistakes,'' he said. "When you do that, and when you have a good lineup, you have a chance of winning games."
Daniel Descalso, the St. Louis second basemen who grew up in San Carlos, agreed. He was among Zito's six strikeout victims. He got suckered by the high heat.
"You have to lay off that high fastball,'' Descalso said. "Zito works off of that, and we chased a little bit. He's able to throw the breaking ball and slider off of that."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, a four-time Gold Glove winner as a catcher, saluted Zito for the way he used his brains rather than velocity.
"He kept our guys off balance, and it looked like we tried to guess, tried to anticipate a little bit,'' Matheny said. "Zito was one step ahead."
Zito's artful performance even caught the notice of the Cardinals bullpen. Reliever Mitchell Boggs, among the St. Louis fireballers who can top 95 mph, marveled at what Zito did with less.
"When he's got his command, and when he's dropping his curveball, it doesn't matter how hard he's throwing,'' Boggs said. "He's as tough as anybody."
Still, the Cardinals spoke confidently about their return trip to San Francisco for the conclusion of the series. St. Louis is 26-21 all time in possible clinch situations.
"Yeah, it would have been nice winning at home. But we're still in the driver's seat here,'' Descalso said.
Freese packed up for a return trip to the Bay Area. But he did so reluctantly.
"San Francisco is a great city,'' he said. "But I wish we weren't going back there."