LOS ANGELES – I wanted to ask Ryan Vogelsong a question Thursday night, but I feared he might misinterpret it as a slight. So I prefaced it with a “please don’t take this the wrong way…”
Because he is coming off such a punishing year, it’s become a story every time he’s pitched well this season – as if a solid start is a happy accident of sorts. But now he is coming off three solid starts. He has an 0.89 ERA in them. So as essential as his 7 1/3 innings were Thursday, in a 3-1, 10-inning victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, he didn’t have to stand out as the story of the night.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants score twice in 10th to beat Dodgers]
Is there something refreshing about that?
Vogelsong didn’t take the question the wrong way. He said yes, he sleeps a lot better now. And he said something else – a shred of wisdom, actually.
“A lot of my focus is not to prove people wrong, but to prove people right that believe in me,” Vogelsong said. “I know there are certain people that had a big say in me coming back this year and I want to do right by them. There were people that wanted me back and people that didn’t. I want to reward the people who believed in me.”
The belief is growing now. Vogelsong’s fastball topped out at 93.7 mph, according to PitchF/X, and he continues to maintain his stuff into the sixth inning and beyond. His stamina was an unknown this spring, and whether his back would hold up. Right now, he is standing tall.
So instead you could take a victory that was crisp as an ironed bedsheet and shine a light on a night of sensational defense, with Brandon Crawford turning ever more professorial as this road trip scurries along. Or you could break down a Giants bullpen that might have looked undermanned against the Dodgers’ toxic crew early in the season, yet has one-upped them at almost every turn thus far.
Brandon Hicks’ solo homer tied it in the seventh inning, and after three walks loaded the bases in the 10th, Hector Sanchez lofted a pinch sacrifice fly. The Giants added one more run when Brandon Belt turned an 0-for-8 night with runners in scoring position into a 1 for 9. His single gave Sergio Romo a bit more seat pitch as he saved his 11th in 11 tries.
Vogelsong saw his infield was a bunch of hungry chicks, and he fed them with ground balls as if scattered from a sack of grain. He got 13 outs on the ground, including a pair of double-play hoppers.
“You watch Huddy pitch and it rubs off on you,” Vogelsong said of Tim Hudson and his worm-killing sinker.
The Giants did the rest, using both shrewd positioning to make three Brandons seem like a baker’s dozen of them. Crawford made three highlight plays, none better than the diving stop up the middle on Hanley Ramirez to take away what would’ve been a treacherous leadoff single with the Dodgers looking to break a tie and walk off in the ninth.
Instead, it was the first out in a 1-2-3 inning for Santiago Casilla.
“People that don’t get to see Brandon Crawford play every day …” Vogelsong begam. “It’s not that they’re extremely nice plays, but we’re used to seeing them. It’s been outstanding and we don’t take it for granted, but when he doesn’t make that play, it kind of shocks us. It’s great that everyone else is getting to see it now, too.”
Said Giants manager Bruce Bochy: “I tell you, this game, I enjoyed watching it. Crawford’s game at shortstop, it was just spectacular. He put on a clinic and he’s had a terrific road trip.”
Crawford is as likely to beat his chest on the field as he is to brag to reporters afterward. So you probably won’t be surprised to hear that he deflected credit.
“It’s more about our pitchers, I think,” he said. “They’re on a roll and getting ground balls and hitting spots, so I can cheat a step over and get to balls you wouldn’t get to.”
And get to his feet. That’s the part that most impresses Bochy.
“He not only dives and makes a play, but it’s incredible how fast he gets up and throws,” Bochy said. “And he’s got a plus arm to make the throw. I mean, he’s not a little guy, and yet he bounces up so fast. You appreciate his gifts and talents in a game like this.”
Hanley Ramirez is a shortstop. Crawford took a hit away from Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta’s Gold Glover, at Turner Field. And shortstop Jordy Mercer got denied in Pittsburgh, too. Is there an extra glimmer of satisfaction in taking a hit away from your opposite number?
“We were just talking about that,” Crawford said. “It just kind of happened that way. I’m not trying harder against those guys.
“…It is kind of nice,” he said, smiling.
The Giants continue to pick their spots to shift well. Adrian Gonzalez hit into the shift three times, including one ball that Hicks, the second baseman, backhanded 15 feet deep on the outfield grass before throwing across his body for the out.
Hicks struck out in his other three trips and he’s hitting just .200, but 10 of his 17 hits are for extra bases – and his six homers are already one more than all Giants second basemen hit last season.
“You’ve heard me say it. I’m not all that big on average,” Bochy said. “I agree with a lot of baseball people. That’s way overrated. It’s on-base and slugging. Sometimes you give up a little bit to do some damage. That’s his style.”
If the Giants can pattern the style they displayed in this series-opening victory, then you can bet on this: the story is bound to be bigger than any one person.