Vogelsong's latest gem defies baseball logic
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 10:38 p.m.
Ryan Vogelsong channeled his inner Barry Zito Sunday night. The guy who once had no future in the big leagues looked at the guy who people have said shouldn’t be in the big leagues and said, “Well, doggone it, if Barry didn’t give up and could pitch a gem, why can’t I?”
“Miracles happen,” said Giants right fielder Hunter Pence.
Yes, the man with the $126 million noose around his neck, Zito, pitched the game of his life in Game 5 of the NLCS Friday. The man who is 58-69 with the Giants threw 7» innings of zeroes to win an elimination game. Vogelsong — he with a 37-38 career regular season record — came back in Game 6 Sunday night and threw a no-hitter through 4» innings, allowed only one run in seven innings and extended the momentum Zito created by winning another elimination game.
Nothing in baseball creates the overwhelming sense of fate faster than pitchers who can stick it up the bats of the opposition. One could have made a king’s fortune in spring training betting that Zito and Vogelsong would have pitched the Giants to within one win of a berth in the the 2012 World Series.
“When I came to spring training 2011,” Vogelsong said, “I was sent down to Triple A. I was OK with that. I was happy to be with a team, even if it was in Triple A.”
That’s because the year before, Vogelsong was pitching in Japan.
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
Now, flash ahead to Sunday night. Vogelsong began the game by throwing 12 consecutive fastballs to the Cardinals. Twelve! And none of them went straight, especially that two-seamer he drove in on the hands of right-handers and had the lefties chasing off the corner. Vogelsong struck out the side in the St. Louis, splicing in a walk. In your face, it was.
“I guessed Buster (Posey, catcher) saw something,” Vogelsong said humbly.
That would be a Vogelsong fastball that had more jet to it. It was traveling two, maybe three miles an hour faster than usual, up to 94 and 95. Vogelsong admitted he had help Sunday night ramping up. The crowd gave him the push.
“It was the environment,” Vogelsong said. “It put more miles per hour on the fastball.”
Usually when a pitcher feels the adrenaline, his pitches flatten. He overthrows. The ball doesn’t move and the deception is lost. Not Sunday night. Sunday night the Cardinals appeared to be just as helpless at the plate as they were Friday against Zito.
OK, so these two guys aren’t the new Giants’ version of Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry but you would be hard pressed to look at these last two games and say, let’s sub them out for those two Hall of Famers. Neither Zito or Vogelsong will make it to Cooperstown but they pitched like they belong there in the last two games.
Dominant is dominant, no matter what the era. Sunday night, it was made all the more impressive for the man who didn’t quit, “like when I went to winter ball at 33,” he said. That was two years ago, by the way.
“I don’t know if I would have had the strength (to stick it out) like Ryan did,” reliever Sergio Romo said.
Vogelsong represents what seems a cliché to everyone but those who truly believe it.
“Don’t let lack of effort be the reason you don’t succeed,” Vogelsong said. “My dad raised me that way.”
In 2002 Vogelsong had Tommy John surgery, a reconstruction that leaves most pitchers less than whole. “Once,” said Giants general manager Brian Sabean, “Ryan had the stuff to be a power pitcher. But then he had to re-learn how to pitch.”
The education took a while. No one reinvents himself by just flipping a switch.
“Let’s be honest,” Pence said. “Some guys have the same will and drive as Ryan but they still won’t get a shot (in the big leagues).”
Vogelsong even admitted his work ethic has had little to do with his success: “I worked just as hard when I wasn’t pitching well.” But the right-hander is now 35. He has found his game because he was patient and the Giants believed the talent was there. It’s there to the point that right now Vogelsong is the most trusted Giants starter. He is 2-0 with a 1.29 earned run average in the NLCS. He’s got a 2.66 ERA this season at AT&T.
“To tell you the truth,” he said, “I had better stuff in Game 2. Then, I didn’t miss a pitch (location) after the third inning. Tonight I had some misses (over the plate) and the hitters swung through them. So I had some good fortune.”
Funny, isn’t it, how skill brings about good fortune. And momentum. Vogelsong struck out more guys in a game Sunday night (nine) that he ever has before. He looked as good as you can without your name being Justin Verlander. He’s money and the only shame of it all, he won’t be able to pitch Game 7. Neither will Zito. Not that it matters right now to the Cardinals, whose bats have turned to rubber, courtesy of two guys once thought of as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or email@example.com.
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