LOS ANGELES – In more than five decades of visits to Dodger Stadium, the Giants had never scored as many as six runs in the first inning. It had to be extra satisfying to accomplished this Friday afternoon, in their archrivals’ home opener, greeting their blue pomp and pageantry with a thumb to the eye.
The first inning was a dollar slot machine, clinking and clanking to the point of embarrassment. Pablo Sandoval’s two-out, bases-empty walk became a modest gateway to an inning when doubles rattled off the outfield wall, pop-ups found turf or got lost in the sun and a pitcher who had two hits all last season -- who hadn’t batted all spring, actually -- found himself at bat with the bases loaded.
Wouldn’t you know it? Ryan Vogelsong placed a two-run knock over the shortstop’s head.
“I wouldn’t really call it a knock,” Vogelsong said. “More like a sand wedge out there.”
Yes, the Giants benefited from luck, they made some of their own, and they enjoyed a set of circumstances that they couldn’t repeat again if they tried.
And Vogelsong still could not win.
There’s the push broom after the confetti. The Giants won 8-4 and own four victories in five games, snagging early claim to the NL’s best record. But they also got no-hit in the last seven innings against the Dodgers’ power bullpen, striking out 10 times. And Vogelsong, all the mise en place done for him, could not make a dish he or anyone would want to eat.
“He had good stuff early, but the pitches caught up with him,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who pulled Vogelsong after the first three batters stroked hits in the fifth. “It looked like he hit a wall."
Vogelsong offered a different explanation, faulting his mechanics for the back-to-back homers he allowed in the fourth and the hits in the fifth.
“It’s just all mechanical stuff,” he said. “It’s the same thing when I started getting hit last year, just a bad habit. I know that’s entirely what it is. It shows hitters the ball early, affects the velocity and it changes the whole deal. I’ve been fighting it.
“A day like today is tough. You get a big lead and it’s easy to let your guard down and lose your focus. You’ve got to have one of these to remember what it takes.”
The manager remembers, too. Bochy acknowledged that some of Vogelsong’s starts this spring, when he had good stuff early but had trouble maintaining it, influenced his decision to take out the 36-year-old when he was three outs away from qualifying for a decision.
“Well, yeah, he has a track record for getting (in trouble) once he starts missing his spots,” Bochy said. “I mean, for three innings, he was on. He had command, velocity and it seemed like he started running some deep counts and it caught up with him.”
Vogelsong is a battler. He wouldn’t have persevered through Tommy John surgeries and release papers and stints in Japan and being a 30-something in the Venezuelan winter league if he backed down from a fight. He tends to approach innings that way, too, once runners are on base.
He probably can’t pitch any other way. He probably can’t be any other way. But Bochy said he’ll have to try.
“I hope so,” said Bochy, asked if Vogelsong’s mid-inning struggles might be an early-season thing. “Hopefully he learns from this. It’s his first start, and again, I was so energized with how he threw the ball the first three innings. But he’s got to find a way to attack the zone a little bit better at times in that situation.”
The situation, obviously, won’t always be 6-0 before Vogelsong throws his first pitch. Don’t forget, he was supposed to match up against Clayton Kershaw on Friday before the Cy Young winner landed on the disabled list with upper back inflammation.
The Giants don’t need Vogelsong to be an ace but they do need him to be a capable No. 5 starter, able to grind his way through a lineup a third time and still have something left.
So for now, cue the confetti cannons that come with stomping your archrival in front of a celebratory sellout crowd. But keep the brooms handy.
“It was a 50/50 start for me,” Vogelsong said. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning ballgames, and it makes it extra nice we were kind of able to ruin their opening day here.”