SAN FRANCISCO Ryan Vogelsongs rut lasted two starts.Angel Pagan skidded on the shoulder for the better part of July.
They both had different triggers for setting themselvesright again. And without those course corrections, the Giants wouldve stood littlechance against the Atlanta Braves Friday night.
For Pagan, it was the move to the leadoff spot on Aug. 3.Since then, hes batting .391 and has scored 27 runs in 21 games. He had fourmore hits and crossed the plate three times to help the streaking Giantsovercome an early deficit in a 5-3 victory at AT&T Park.
For Vogelsong, it was a trip to the video room and a sessionwith pitching coach Dave Righetti following two rough outings in which he mighthave been giving away his pitches. Vogelsong had dismissed his eight-run,2.2-inning start against Washington as a fluke. But then after the Padresharassed him in three innings
With all those foul balls, I knew something had to be goingon, Vogelsong said. Something needed to be adjusted. My direction towardthe plate needed to get better. I was swinging off the ball, maybe showing theball too early.
Sure, Vogelsong allowed three home runs, which matched hiscareer high set April 20, 2004 at Pittsburgh. That day, the Cubs Alex Gonzalezgot him twice and Todd Walker also took him deep. (That was another life,Vogelsong said.)
This time, it was Jason Heyward in the first, FreddieFreeman in the second and Freeman again on the last pitch he threw in theseventh.
But in between, Vogelsong had life on his cutter andtwo-seamer again. He only allowed one other hit while leading the Giants totheir season high-tying fifth consecutive victory.
And the starters won all five, right? Vogelsong said.
And the starters won all five. Exactly right.
You wouldnt think that to be a rare feat, especially for apitching-rich organization like this one. But the Giants hadnt accomplishedthat since April 20-25, 2007. Back then, it was Russ Ortiz, Barry Zito, MattCain, Matt Morris and Noah Lowry.
April of 2007 might sound strangely familiar to you, and forgood reason. When the Giants finished their sweep in LA on Wednesday, it markedtheir first at Dodger Stadium since April 24-26, 2007. As it happened, Morrisand Lowry won the first two games of that series.
The lesson: It always begins with starting pitching. Always.
Vogelsong wasnt aware how rare it was for the starters towin five in a row. He was just glad to keep the streak alive.
Here lately, Im the only one not holding up my end of thebargain, he said. I just wanted a piece of the action.
Its all action all the time with Pagan, who said getting back to aleadoff mentality is what allowed him to keep a better approach. He's hittimg .514 with a .552 on-base percentage over an eight-game hitting streak, while scoring 28 runs in 21 games since moving back to the leadoff spot.
When youre a leadoff hitter, youre not there to hit ahome run, he said. Youre there to get a hit and get on base.
Heres how dedicated he is to that proposition: When heneeded a home run for the cycle, he didnt even try for it. He singled up themiddle, instead.
Well I hit a ball pretty good and it didnt go, saidPagan, of his triple off the bricks in the fourth. So why would I want to gofor that? I wanted to get on base again.
And again, and again, and again
This is the best Ive felt and I think its at the righttime, when the team needs it the most, Pagan said. When you know you can givethe pitcher two strikes and still be confident, thats where you want to be.
First place is a good place to be, too.
Right now were playing the best weve played all season, andwe have to keep it up, Pagan said. What other teams do, thats theirbusiness. Were in first place and weve got to protect that.