CINCINNATI — As the sun set over Great American Ballpark on Monday, the discussion between Giants manager Bruce Bochy and the media was 100 percent hypothetical.

Try to follow this. If the Giants do not get eliminated from the Division Series when Ryan Vogelsong gets the start in Game 3, then Barry Zito will pitch Game 4 on Wednesday night, another elimination game. When you are down 2-zip in a best-of-five series, every game is an elimination game. This discussion about Zito and Game 4 is hypothetical because, if the Giants lose Game 3, Game 4 never will happen.

But as long as we're being hypothetical, let's go all the way. Come on, let's shoot the moon together. We'll assume Vogelsong rises up in the fullness of his Vogeytude and shuts down the Reds and wins and allows the scrappy, frustrated, hungry Giants to live another day. That means the Giants' season will come down to Zito on Wednesday. There is a school of thought that says it's better to hide under a rock than let anything come down to Zito.

If you think I'm being unfair, remember he's been reviled for years as Brian Sabean's big blunder — signing Zito for a fortune which precluded other, better signings. And now the

Giants could be asking this chronic underachiever to save the season. It sort of makes your brain hurt.

I might add that Zito has not been King Kong in this little ballpark. His earned run average here is 6.1, grotesque in the extreme. You can imagine his pitches flying out of this place like cannonballs.

But things are not that simple. In his most recent start in Cincinnati, Zito gave up one run in six innings and didn't melt down or run from the mound shrieking. On Monday, he spoke about that start, last April 25, in the post-workout clubhouse: "I hadn't done well in the past here, but I had a good one last time. It's encouraging to be able to come out and refer to my most recent game in the ballpark and to know I've got it done here before."

In other words, he wasn't a flop. He also wasn't a flop in the Giants' fourth game of the season. The Giants got swept three straight in Arizona and things looked grim, but Zito, unusually plucky, threw a complete game shutout in Denver — in that other launching pad — and made things right for the Giants. The Giants have won Zito's last 11 starts. That is a big number.

So, with Zito there are issues of perception: he's a bum — and reality: by no means a bum. When someone suggested Zito is being asked to save the season, if it comes to that, he laughed out loud.

"I wasn't thinking save the season, actually. The most important thing is to do what I've been doing and be loose and free out there."

No matter what Zito says or thinks, he is being asked to save the season. Bochy has so much confidence in this new, improved Zito he will not consider using Matt Cain for the hypothetical Game 4.

"We put thought into (starting Cain), but this is more a case with rewarding Zito, with how he's been pitching, and I think he's earned this." Bochy also said he hasn't asked Cain to pitch on short rest this season and that means Game 4 — if there is a Game 4 — belongs to Zito.

It never belonged to Tim Lincecum. Bochy also let that cat out of the bag. "I talked to Timmy about it and said there is a good possibility he would not get a start," Bochy said. "We used him in the bullpen. ... He did give us two solid innings, and he should be available (Tuesday), even, if we need him short."

Which means Zito, who used to be out, is in. And Lincecum who used to be in, is out. Life is funny that way.

Did Bochy factor in what Lincecum has done for the team before awarding to Zito the game that may not occur?

"Sure," Bochy said, "you have to look at what Timmy has done, but you have to look at the present, and that's what we have done. We've looked at this year and recent history with how Barry has been throwing the ball and I'll say Vogelsong, too. With that said, Timmy is on the staff and we think we need some help in the bullpen and we think he has the possibility of really helping us in the bullpen if needed. He showed that (Sunday) and he's going to be available the next three games."

Don't feel bad for Lincecum, or Timmy, if you prefer. Most great athletes get humbled and must come back. Coming back is part of their demonstration of greatness. If Lincecum cannot recover from this shock he may not be great, not really. Zito, a pitcher many people do not respect, got publicly humiliated two years ago when Bochy axed him from the postseason roster. Such a public belittling. Zito came back, and for that alone he deserves this start — if there is a start to deserve.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.