Vogelsong: 'It's definitely a postseason atmosphere'
Ryan Vogelsong instantly went from the losing pitcher to being in line for the victory when David Wright hit his tiebreaking grand slam in the fifth. (AP IMAGES)
PHOENIX – The first two innings didn’t go as Ryan Vogelsong intended or imagined Saturday night.
Team USA found itself on the wrong end of a 2-0 score against Italy, and you could hear the star-spangled strains of another disappointing exit from the World Baseball Classic.
But Vogelsong isn’t so far removed from pitching elimination games. And Giants fans won’t be surprised to learn how he turned himself around at Chase Field.
“I just got a little angry and tried to turn it up a little more,” said Vogelsong, “and I was able to do that.”
A quick mound visit from Team USA pitching coach Greg Maddux preceded a confrontation with Chris Denorfia, which ended quickly with a first-pitch curve and a ground out to strand two runners.
From there, Vogelsong retired the side in the third and fourth, striking out four of the six batters he faced.
And on the wings of David Wright’s tiebreaking grand slam, Vogelsong emerged the winning pitcher in Team USA’s 6-2 victory.
“Vogey settled down and gave the offense momentum by putting up those zeroes,” Wright said. “That was the most important thing.”
The Americans could have stayed alive with a loss, but this result made the math so much simpler. Beat Canada on Sunday, and go through to the second round of pool play in Miami.
Vogelsong wants the chance to pitch again.
“It was the same kind of emotions as the postseason last year,” said the right-hander, who threw 60 pitches and exited after giving up a leadoff hit in the fifth. “It’s not exactly how I planned it out in my mind, but it was fun. … The emotions I had were everything I thought it’d be. It was a great feeling, a great adrenaline rush.”
Giants left-hander Jeremy Affeldt stranded Vogelsong’s runner in the fifth by retiring all three batters he faced, striking out Nick Punto with a backdoor curveball. The Nationals’ Ross Detwiler went the rest of the way in what Team USA manager Joe Torre described as a “planned piggyback” designed to keep his bullpen as fresh as possible for Canada.
“Affeldt certainly did a great job gluing both sides together,” Torre said.
Vogelsong almost came unglued in the first inning, when he left a few pitches over the plate but ended up paying for one that wasn’t anywhere close.
Punto immediately put Vogelsong into the stretch with a leadoff single and Anthony Rizzo lined a one-out single to left field. Then Rizzo prevented an inning-ending double play with a hard takeout slide into second baseman Brandon Phillips.
With the inning extended, Vogelsong yanked a pitch to Mike Constanzo that catcher Jonathan Lucroy had no chance to stop. Punto scored as the ball skidded to the backstop.
Vogelsong escaped the inning when Costanzo made a loud out to center field and Adam Jones displayed his considerable range while running it down.
But Italy rallied for another run in the second inning, and wouldn’t you know who started it with a two-out single up the middle? It was Tyler La Torre, a minor leaguer in the Giants system who is in major league camp this spring and has caught Vogelsong this spring.
“Nearly took my head off,” Vogelsong muttered. “Now I know why he wanted to catch all my ‘pens. Every time I’d get on the mound, there he’d be back there.”
The stocky catcher managed to score all the way from first base on Anthony Granato’s double over Jones’ head, giving Italy a 2-0 lead.
Punto followed with a single to put runners at the corners and Vogelsong was in a jam against Denorfia when Maddux visited the mound.
His advice was more Stuart Smalley than Cy Young.
“He just came out and reconfirmed what I already knew: that I was throwing some good pitches,” Vogelsong said. “(It helped) just to hear that affirmation that he thought the stuff was good, and to just keep doing what I was doing.”
Vogelsong was a different pitcher after that. One of his strikeout victims was La Torre, who couldn’t catch up to a 92 mph power sinker.
Vogelsong instantly went from the losing pitcher to being in line for the victory when Wright cracked his tiebreaking grand slam in the fifth. And even though the right-hander already stood at 55 pitches through four innings, just 10 under the imposed limit for a starter, he took the mound to start the fifth.
Granato singled through the left side on the fifth pitch of his at-bat, and Torre came out to collect the baseball. Vogelsong walked off to a mostly standing ovation from the fans behind the American dugout.
Affeldt threw 15 pitches, well under the cap of 30 that would’ve made him ineligible to appear again Sunday against Canada. That’s important, since the winner of that game will advance to the next round of pool play.
As for the upstart Italians? They’re already through.
“That’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of,” said La Torre, a 29-year-old who only got 97 at-bats as the backup at Triple-A Fresno last season. “One pitch turned this game around. I’m proud of our pitchers. They really did a good job.”
La Torre, a graduate of Aptos High who played at UC Davis, said he only had three at-bats in Giants camp and two more in a warm-up game. So he was happy with the way he battled Vogelsong.
“It was good to get a hit off Vogey,” La Torre said. “It’s always good to get a hit, I guess. … And I’d caught just four innings all spring. So to go all nine in this atmosphere is awesome.”
He had the tough task of working with nine different Team Italy pitchers, too.
But what did it feel like to hear the “USA, USA” chants and realize he was playing for the other side? Did he feel like the bad guy in the “Rocky movies, maybe?
“Yeah, kind of,” he said, before smiling. “But not really. Rocky was Italian, right?”
The WBC is already over for Venezuela, which was eliminated from its pool with a loss to Puerto Rico. That means Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval will rejoin the Giants in another day or two. Angel Pagan had three hits in Puerto Rico's huge victory Saturday.