MIAMI To understand the stuff thats inside RyanVogelsong, you only need to understand what went through his mind after Marlinsslugger Giancarlo Stanton went all Cape Canaveral on him with a 434-foot boosterrocket in the second inning Thursday night.
Hes a good hitter. Hes strong, Vogelsong said. Ichallenged him. He hit it. Next time up, I challenged him again.
Vogelsong competes with no slack on his line. So he did notshrink when Stanton destroyed a two-seamer that was supposed to run on hishands.
The next at-bat, I threw him four or five in a row, saidVogelsong, who ended up dusting him on a changeup.
Then in the fifth, Stanton came up with the bases loaded. Itwas the games biggest moment. Vogelsong had to play Press Your Luck with ahitter who owned two grand slams in four at-bats with the bags juiced thisseason.
He threw a called, first-pitch fastball. Then an offspeedpitch for a ball. Then another fastball that stayed off the barrel. Stantonnearly scraped the roof on his foul pop, but it ended up in first basemanBrandon Belts glove.
And right there, you begin to understand why Vogelsong canbe rightly called the ace of the Giants staff.
Hes matched up against Anibal Sanchez, whos virtuallyowned the Giants, and Clayton Kershaw, who practically had the carbon paper toprove it stuffed in a filing cabinet somewhere.
After Thursdays 14-7 victory, Vogelsong can say hes beatenthem both.
Thats what aces do. And its been such a vitalcontribution, since the Giants remain in wait-and-hope mode that their erstwhileace, Tim Lincecum, will find his inner freak.
Lincecum has one quality start in nine outings. Vogelsonghas seven in eight.
Vogelsong would have a 2.17 ERA after Thursday, but theGiants bullpen allowed his two inherited runners to score in the seventhinning. So he stands at 2.50, which still ranks as the lowest among the Giantsstarting five.
Vogelsong is doing it despite a reduced strikeout rate (6.33per nine innings, down from 7.0), a higher walk rate (3.83, up from 3.1) and a shorterfastball (89.4 mph entering Thursday, down from 91.6) from last year. Hesdoing it by making confident yet smart pitches to get out of jams. Hes doing it by not coweringfrom big situations against dangerous hitters.
He's doing it because the stuff inside counts, too.
Vogelsong keeps insisting that his lower back is not an issue.Maybe it is. Maybe it isnt. Or maybe hes simply refusing to let it be one.
Either way, if he keeps it up, hell streak toward another All-Starappearance. And he won't need his own manager to pick him this time. Aces seldom get snubbed.