SAN FRANCISCO -- The Bizarro Series settled down Monday night, to the great relief of all San Francisco Giants, most of all Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti.
And they can pin all their newfound zen on Ryan Vogelsong, who in guiding them to a stunningly routine 7-1 win over St. Louis in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, reminded them what Giant starting pitchers used to do back in the olden days.
Throw 100 pitches (106, to be precise).
Throw at least six innings (seven, to be pedantic).
Minimize hits and walks (four of one, two of the other).
Allow the defense to carry its end of the piano, most of all the often undertaxed infield (eight ground ball outs, which is high for any Giants pitcher).
Change the course of a series by stabilizing the bullpen (only Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo pitched, and Guillermo Mota heated up once).
Make the Giants seem more like . . . well, more like the Giants.
Yes, Vogelsong did all this, simply by not running out of petrol too early, or getting spooked by the size of the stage. He controlled all facets of the Cardinal offense, save Chris Carpenter and Carlos Beltran, and he protected a 5-1 lead as Giant pitchers used to when they had an ultra-reliable rotation.
What they have now, of course, is two wings and a bunch of prayers. Or if you must, Vogelsong, Cain and pray for rain, to steal the old 1948 poem from Boston Post writer Gerald Hern, back in the days when poetry could be found in the sports section, and the Boston Braves were driving for pennant behind pitchers Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain:
First we'll use Spahn,
Then we'll use Sain,
Then an off day followed by rain,
Back will come Spahn,
Followed by Sain,
And followed, we hope, by two days of rain.
By the way, rain is in the forecast in St. Louis for Wednesday, in case your dj runs to that sort of vu.
In the interim, Vogelsong found the light and stood right in its midst for what he considered his finest start ever.
I think it was in the third right after Beltran hit that leadoff double, and something just clicked in mechanically. I threw a pitch (to the Cardinals villain du jour, Matt Holliday) and I went, That was it right there. I was able to run with that feeling right there and keep it going.
For sure, this is the best Ive probably thrown in a big league game after the third inning for sure. One thing clicked and I was able to sustain it.
His fastball, which topped at 94, rarely dipped below 92 (the RBI double he allowed to Carpenter was 89 and hittable, but an exception to the rule), and after relying mostly on the fastball early, he spent the rest of the night mixing in curve balls, sliders and changeups.
I just kept trying to mix it up, Vogelsong said. Theyre obviously a strong offensive team, and their numbers speak for themselves, so I kept trying to mix things up depending on the hitter, and tried to bounce the ball around the zone like I normally do.
The result of all this was that the Giants go to St. Louis with their bullpen rested in all the places that it needed rest, worked where it needed work (specifically, Romo, who would have been idle for five days had he not mopped up in the ninth), and in order for not only the Cain start in Game 3, but the chaos to follow.
With the series guaranteed to go at least five games now, manager Bochy will have to tackle his back-end starting pitching issues head-on for Games 4 and 5, where the conundrum of Madison Bumgarner has left Game 5 a muddle. Bumgarners mechanics have gone astray, as Vogelsongs had in early September, and it isnt widely believed that he can solve them before Saturday.
In short, the new question is whether Tim Lincecum starts Game 4 and Barry Zito or Bumgarner Game 5, or Zito starts 4 and Lincecum 5. And Bochy, an old campaigner when hes working with a two-man rotation, is going to make a jigsaw puzzle that cant possibly fit, fit.
More immediately pressing, though, is the hip injury to second baseman Marco Scutaro after a hard and tardy slide from Holliday in the top of the first. Scutaro injured his left hip and went to the hospital for tests and delicious food . . . well, okay, for tests.
NEWS: Scutaro leaves with hip injury, X-rays negative
But as is the Giants way in the postseason, they wont have an announcement on Scutaro until Tuesday at the earliest, and maybe not until Game 3 Wednesday in St. Louis. True, they have Ryan Theriot, who closed the game at the position, but Scutaro is plainly preferable, as his two-run single in the pivotal fourth inning indicated. By the time he left the game in the sixth, the result was safe, but his short-term future was murky.
The X-rays were negative, Bochy fumed, but were going to do an MRI on him tomorrow, I believe. And once we get to St. Louis, well see how hes doing and where hes at.
Bochy was unhappy with Hollidays slide, but there was little to do about it except what the Giants did, which was focus on the greater task getting out of California with a split.
Now comes the bigger picture, though. Cain and rain, the mystery starters in Four and Five, and the growing realization that the Giants from top to bottom are the hardest thing it is to be in a short series.
Day to day.