SAN FRANCISCO – What is the opposite of being embarrassed?
Is it pride? Confidence? That fullness in your chest when you accomplish something great? Or is it the vibrations a record-setting sellout crowd, in full adulation mode, sends through you?
For Ryan Vogelsong, maybe it’s all of that, plus this: knowing exactly what pitch you want to throw, seeing Buster Posey flash that exact sign, and pinging that exact spot to finish off a hitter.
“I wanted it. He wanted it. He called the pitch and I made it,” said Vogelsong, who shouted and pumped a fist after his backdoor cutter struck out the Indians’ Asdrubal Cabrera to complete seven shutout innings in the Giants’ 4-1 victory.
“That’s about as much as you’re going to get out of me,” Vogelsong added, smiling.
That was the question everyone was asking: How much, really, could the Giants expect to get out of Vogelsong this season? He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA entering Sunday’s game and he was coming off a miserable start -- "embarrassing, really," as he assessed it -- at Coors Field where he recorded just four outs. He knew that No.5 starters do not get to spend all day on the lake.
Brian Sabean was asked on KNBR Thursday just how long he would let the 36-year-old right-hander pitch before evaluating alternatives. The GM said six starts. Against the Indians, Vogelsong was making his fifth.
He was attuned to the noise, but tried to drown it out. The scouting reports and video became his box fan.
“Control what I can control, and that’s making sure I’m prepared for the game, I did the homework, I know what I want to do, I have a game plan in place and try to execute it,” Vogelsong said. I’ve been in that situation a few times and it’s not a good feeling. But when it’s time to pitch, it’s time to pitch.”
It was not Vogelsong’s time to break into the win column. Santiago Casilla gave up a tying home run in the eighth before Brandon Hicks turned his bat into a broomstick with a three-run home run in the ninth.
But the Giants’ first series sweep of the year was right on script for how this team must win games: Solid pitching, timely hits and defense straight out of the crisper drawer. Last year went awry for several reasons, one of the biggest being a lack of continuity from a rotation that had been so good for so long.
That continuity does more than help you start and sustain winning streaks. Vogelsong offered testimony to that, crediting Tim Hudson for providing a stencil pattern with his solid start against Cleveland in Friday’s series opener.
“It’s not easy, don’t get me wrong, but it’s easier after watching Timmy (Lincecum) and Huddy,” said Vogelsong, who had allowed a .389 average to lefty hitters before holding them to 2 for 20 Sunday. “It helped a lot because of the way Huddy threw the ball. It affirms what you think you see and it firms up the game plan you came up with.”
Vogelsong used his changeup but more importantly he was able to throw to both sides of the plate after finding a “pretty major flaw” on video from his start in Colorado. He adjusted how he loads and steps, and felt better after throwing an inning in the bullpen at Coors Field.
“Other than that, I was out of there so quick,” he said of his previous start. “So you know, really there’s not a whole lot to digest.”
He’s not going to chew on this one for too long, either – even though he held the Indians to just two Michael Bourn singles in those seven shutout innings, and received one of those ovations that “never gets old.”
“This year, I’ve been back and forth, so if I can throw two or three really good ones like today, I’ll feel a lot better,” said Vogelsong, whose next one will come in Atlanta. “I’m not going to get overly excited about one good start after one bad one.”
Vogelsong only threw a first-pitch strike to one of the first 14 Indians batters he faced, but he used his changeup and curveball to work back into counts. His 104 pitches was the most he’s thrown in over a year, and he maintained his stuff to the end.
The defense saved him some pitches, most notably in the third inning when Hicks made a sliding stop and tossed a no-look pass to Brandon Crawford, who barehanded and threw in one motion to complete a double play.
“When I came in the dugout, Buster just gave me a `wow,’” Vogelsong said. “That gave me an idea how good it was.”
Said Crawford of his new double-play partner: “I’ve gotten to know what he’s going to do with a certain ball. It’s like we’ve been playing together for awhile.”
Walk-off homers are a sure way to gain acceptance. Hicks drilled a 96 mph fastball from right-hander Cody Allen, who hadn't allowed a run all year. It was Hicks' second career walk-off. His previous one, for the A’s in 2012 was his first homer in the big leagues.
“You’ve got to be ready for a guy throwing like that,” Hicks said. “That’s what I said to myself: `You’ve got to be on time.’ It feels awesome. You always remember these. I’m getting a lot of opportunities here and I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Back in the clubhouse, Vogelsong was sitting at his locker watching on TV when Hicks connected.
“Yeah,” he said. “That never gets old either.”