SAN FRANCISCO Major LeagueBaseball players dont always mix well with philosophical questions.
The season is too long, toodemanding. The next game and the next days starting pitcher is a constantpreoccupation. There is no time to pick up your head, to wonder about thebroader context, to place any grand meaning on a summers labor.
But cheating death does somethingto a fellow. Its a lot easier to consider what it all means when your lifekeeps flashing before your eyes.
And so, after the Giants 6-1victory in Game 6 of the NLCS, making them the first band of big-leaguebelievers in 27 years to win five elimination games in a single postseason, wegive you Hunter Pence:
Do I believe in clutch? he said,narrowing his intense eyes as if trying to stare down the abstraction. I dontknow. But I believe in adversity. And I believe thats when you find out whatyoure made of.
Strong stuff, it would seem particularly from Ryan Vogelsong, who might need to find a new chip to place onhis shoulder after making believers of a baseball nation this postseason. Andparticularly for Marco Scutaro, the embodiment of a team knocked down but notout.
Vogelsong hopped so many continentsand twice received Triple-A walking papers before reaching this moment. He dominated the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 with atwo-seam fastball that conjured visions of Greg Maddux, with a little morepower and just as much movement.
Scutaro was traded twice before heever reached the big leagues, was claimed off waivers twice more and the Colorado Rockies even paid a quarter of the 2 million left on his dealwhen they dealt him to the Giants in July.
All hes done is go 9 for 19 sincethe Cardinals Matt Holliday knocked him off second base and into the MRIchamber with his controversial slide in Game 2. His two-run double brought downthe house, scoring Vogelsong all the way from first base and helping to turnthe NL pennant into a winner-take-all affair.
RATTO: Giants continue to dispel myths
Vogelsong and Scutaro sat next toeach other in a postgame interview session the 35-year-old pitcher and the36-year-old contact man, both 27 outs away from their first World Series.
I think a lot of the nation is finally getting to see thekind of player that Marco is because of this postseason, Vogelsong said. Butthe things hes doing are not a surprise to anybody on this club. I was nothappy in the offseason when I saw Marco was going to Colorado and going to bein our division, because you know hes going to put a professional at-bat onyou. Hes going to battle you. And hes one of the best clutch hitters Iveever seen.
He might not remember this, but I faced Marco in winterball in 2004. And hes still the same guy.
I was, like, 21 years old, right? Scutaro said.
Me too, nodded Vogelsong, knowingly.
So many talented 21-year-olds come up withthe same vision: The world cannot give them what they want fast enough. Theyhave more energy than the next guy. They have more talent than the next guy.Theyll move to the front of the line.
Vogelsong and Scutaro know itdoesnt work that way. You aren't guaranteed anything, and you certainly aren't going to get it in the snap of your fingers. Thatswhy Vogelsong had to respond with a weary grin when asked if hard work was thekey to his success this postseason.
I worked like that when I wasnt pitching very well,either, in Pittsburgh and Japan, he said. Its just how Ive been. My dadraised me that way. When I came into the game, everybody kind of said, Dontlet that be the reason why you dont succeed.
What succeeded for Vogelsong inthree postseason starts is a two-seam fastball that crackled like BenFranklins kite. He threw fastballs on 28 of his first 31 pitches, and theCardinals put exactly one of them into play.
He threw it over the plate and letit run onto the hands of right-handed hitters. He threw it off the plate andlet it snap back over the edge for freezing strikes. He used it inside againstlefties, too helping him set up changeups away that overwhelmed even CarlosBeltran.
Its often said the changeup isthe best pitch in baseball. With all due respect to Pedro Martinez, there is nothingthat will break bats, induce soft contact, set up secondary pitches and stealstrikes and roar through a lineup like a powerful, running two-seamer.
Ive always thrown it, Vogelsong said. Its just really,really good right now. Its one of those pitches, some days its harder thanothers. Some days its bigger than others.
And some days its more of a bastard than others.
During his seven-start aberration in late August andSeptember, the two-seamer wasnt there for him.
No, it wasnt, Vogelsong said. And that was moremechanical. If you pull off it, it wont do the same thing. Its having theright direction, like we were talking about before.
These Giants are all about direction straight through onefiery hoop after another. And it isnt just Pence who is getting them into afrenzy as they prepare to take the field.
Marco actually said something good, Vogelsong said. Itwas, Concentrate and win every pitch, win every swing, win every inning. Ithink we just go with that. And its been worth it for us.
Said Scutaro: Im just happy to be here in this situation.Its been fun the last couple days watching these guys pitch and playing behindthem. Tomorrow is Game 7. It doesnt get any better than that.
Were 27 outs way from being in the World Series. And that, for me, ispriceless.
The Giants were just in the WorldSeries two years ago, so its easy to forget that so many among this currentgroup mostly on the position side are playing to reach the Fall Classic forthe first time. Pence is one, of course. Angel Pagan is another. Gregor Blanco,Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt are playing in the postseason for the firsttime.
But to a man, the Giants keepsaying they are hell-bent on winning for the guy lockering next to them. Andimpractical as the thought might be, it sure seems like everyone is lockeringnext to Scutaro and Vogelsong.
We would love to make that memory for Marco because hesthe ultimate teammate and such a good person who puts so much into the game andplays it the right way, Pence said. And Vogelsong, I mean WHOO!
Whoo, indeed. Sometimes, when asked a philosophicalquestion, theres no more appropriate answer.