SAN FRANCISCO – It’s not so much the words that resonated Tuesday night. It’s the voice that said them.
“I feel we’re right there. I feel we’re playing hard. You have to hang your hat on that. You have to think that if we do the little things right, leave it all on the field … we’re going to win games.”
That’s coming from Ryan Vogelsong, a pitcher who hasn’t received a single run of support in his last five home starts. The Giants’ two-run ninth inning, cruelly minimized by Gordon Beckham’s brilliant defensive play, only served to save Vogelsong from taking another undeserved losing decision in what became a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Chicago White Sox.
[RECAP: Giants' comeback comes up short]
The Giants are six games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and a half-game out in the wild card standings, where they trail the Pittsburgh Pirates by two in the loss column and the Cardinals by one.
They are 7-22 at home since June 9. They have lost five consecutive. They are five games over .500 for the first time since April 29. They have spun their wheels so deep and for so long, it’s hard to imagine them tearing off the kind of winning streak it will take to become a playoff team.
If anyone has a right to be a pessimist – a nihilist, maybe? – it’s their 37-year-old right-hander who is crafting yet another career renaissance while his teammates can’t pry the lid off the finger paint.
“Guys are playing hard. They’re working hard on defense. I know it didn’t work out tonight, but I think you’ve got to see the positives out of the ninth inning. If (Beckham) doesn’t make that play, we’re having a totally different conversation.”
Vogelsong has enough stature and service time to stand in the middle of the room and point fingers. He has his game face on in the parking lot, and he doesn’t tolerate anyone who shows a lack of commitment. But he said he hasn’t felt the need to raise his voice.
“It’s a situation where if you feel guys aren’t playing hard, you say something,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s the issue. It’s not for a lack of effort or a lack of intensity. … I don’t think it’s effort. The amount of energy we’re bringing to the game is not an issue. We just need some things to go our way.”
Like get Joe Panik’s hard, bases-loaded grounder to kick away from Beckham, or at least turn into one out. Instead, Beckham flipped his glove from his belly and shortstop Alexei Ramirez glided across the bag while turning a double play. A run scored, but it could’ve been two.
Brandon Crawford followed with a two-strike, two-out single that tied the game, but could’ve just as easily been a walk-off. It loomed as a huge moment for Crawford, who took early batting practice with assistant hitting coach Joe Lefebvre to figure a way out of a lengthy slide at the plate. He was hitting .192 against right-handers, he faced one in Jake Petricka, and he was one pitch away from his 100th strikeout – something no other Giants shortstop has done aside from Royce Clayton in 1995. Instead, he fought a single through the right side that tied the game.
But Gregor Blanco ended the inning and Beckham, because this is how baseball works, hit the tiebreaking single off Santiago Casilla in the 10th.
Baseball also works this way: When you fail to turn a double play to end an inning, the next guy often hits a home run. That’s what happened in the first inning, when third baseman Pablo Sandoval needed an ever so slight shuffle after fielding Jose Abreu’s grounder.
"It's impressive how quick (Abreu) gets down the line for a big guy," Vogelsong said. "I thought it was an easy two."
It was one. Then, of course, Adam Dunn followed with a two-run homer off Vogelsong, on a pitch the right-hander didn’t even mean to throw for a strike.
Vogelsong said his two-seamer was running all over the place in the bullpen, so he wanted to throw one off the plate to Dunn.
“For some reason, that one didn’t do that,” Vogelsong said. “And he’s a big, strong man.”
Vogelsong allowed one more hit and no runs the rest of the way. He has pitched masterfully while compiling a 1.64 ERA over his last three starts. Yet Chris Sale struck out 12 in eight scoreless innings, with a rare Hunter Pence baserunning mistake costing the Giants a run in the first.
It was the same story in Vogelsong’s previous home start against the Dodgers, and Clayton Kershaw. And before that, against Arizona’s Wade Miley. And before that, against the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright. The Giants were shut out in all three of those games. They nearly were shut out again. And if you go back prior to the Wainwright game, the Giants didn’t score for Vogelsong in the home outing before that, either. The Reds’ Mike Leake yielded nothing until a run in the seventh, after Vogelsong had exited the game.
The last time the Giants scored a run in a home start when Vogelsong was still an active participant? Try June 14 against the Rockies.
It’s enough to make anyone a pessimist. Instead, Vogelsong sees hope. And he insists it’s not a mirage.
“Show resilience, dig deep and find out what’s inside of you,” he said. “That’s what we did in 2012. That’s what it’s going to take.”