In Game 2, Giants looked like ... the Giants

915765.jpg

In Game 2, Giants looked like ... the Giants

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Bizarro Series settled down Monday night, to the great relief of all San Francisco Giants, most of all Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti.

And they can pin all their newfound zen on Ryan Vogelsong, who in guiding them to a stunningly routine 7-1 win over St. Louis in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, reminded them what Giant starting pitchers used to do back in the olden days.

Specifically:

Throw 100 pitches (106, to be precise).
Throw at least six innings (seven, to be pedantic).
Minimize hits and walks (four of one, two of the other).
Allow the defense to carry its end of the piano, most of all the often undertaxed infield (eight ground ball outs, which is high for any Giants pitcher).
Change the course of a series by stabilizing the bullpen (only Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo pitched, and Guillermo Mota heated up once).
Make the Giants seem more like . . . well, more like the Giants.

Yes, Vogelsong did all this, simply by not running out of petrol too early, or getting spooked by the size of the stage. He controlled all facets of the Cardinal offense, save Chris Carpenter and Carlos Beltran, and he protected a 5-1 lead as Giant pitchers used to when they had an ultra-reliable rotation.

What they have now, of course, is two wings and a bunch of prayers. Or if you must, Vogelsong, Cain and pray for rain, to steal the old 1948 poem from Boston Post writer Gerald Hern, back in the days when poetry could be found in the sports section, and the Boston Braves were driving for pennant behind pitchers Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain:

First we'll use Spahn,
Then we'll use Sain,
Then an off day followed by rain,
Back will come Spahn,
Followed by Sain,
And followed, we hope, by two days of rain.

By the way, rain is in the forecast in St. Louis for Wednesday, in case your dj runs to that sort of vu.

In the interim, Vogelsong found the light and stood right in its midst for what he considered his finest start ever.

I think it was in the third right after Beltran hit that leadoff double, and something just clicked in mechanically. I threw a pitch (to the Cardinals villain du jour, Matt Holliday) and I went, That was it right there. I was able to run with that feeling right there and keep it going.

For sure, this is the best Ive probably thrown in a big league game after the third inning for sure. One thing clicked and I was able to sustain it.

His fastball, which topped at 94, rarely dipped below 92 (the RBI double he allowed to Carpenter was 89 and hittable, but an exception to the rule), and after relying mostly on the fastball early, he spent the rest of the night mixing in curve balls, sliders and changeups.

I just kept trying to mix it up, Vogelsong said. Theyre obviously a strong offensive team, and their numbers speak for themselves, so I kept trying to mix things up depending on the hitter, and tried to bounce the ball around the zone like I normally do.

The result of all this was that the Giants go to St. Louis with their bullpen rested in all the places that it needed rest, worked where it needed work (specifically, Romo, who would have been idle for five days had he not mopped up in the ninth), and in order for not only the Cain start in Game 3, but the chaos to follow.

With the series guaranteed to go at least five games now, manager Bochy will have to tackle his back-end starting pitching issues head-on for Games 4 and 5, where the conundrum of Madison Bumgarner has left Game 5 a muddle. Bumgarners mechanics have gone astray, as Vogelsongs had in early September, and it isnt widely believed that he can solve them before Saturday.

In short, the new question is whether Tim Lincecum starts Game 4 and Barry Zito or Bumgarner Game 5, or Zito starts 4 and Lincecum 5. And Bochy, an old campaigner when hes working with a two-man rotation, is going to make a jigsaw puzzle that cant possibly fit, fit.

More immediately pressing, though, is the hip injury to second baseman Marco Scutaro after a hard and tardy slide from Holliday in the top of the first. Scutaro injured his left hip and went to the hospital for tests and delicious food . . . well, okay, for tests.

NEWS: Scutaro leaves with hip injury, X-rays negative

But as is the Giants way in the postseason, they wont have an announcement on Scutaro until Tuesday at the earliest, and maybe not until Game 3 Wednesday in St. Louis. True, they have Ryan Theriot, who closed the game at the position, but Scutaro is plainly preferable, as his two-run single in the pivotal fourth inning indicated. By the time he left the game in the sixth, the result was safe, but his short-term future was murky.

The X-rays were negative, Bochy fumed, but were going to do an MRI on him tomorrow, I believe. And once we get to St. Louis, well see how hes doing and where hes at.

Bochy was unhappy with Hollidays slide, but there was little to do about it except what the Giants did, which was focus on the greater task getting out of California with a split.

Now comes the bigger picture, though. Cain and rain, the mystery starters in Four and Five, and the growing realization that the Giants from top to bottom are the hardest thing it is to be in a short series.

Day to day.

Giants celebrate Hwang's homer in MLB debut: 'These are moments you love'

Giants celebrate Hwang's homer in MLB debut: 'These are moments you love'

SAN FRANCISCO — Jae-gyun Hwang spent years dreaming of this day, of stepping onto the green grass in a big league stadium and then digging his cleats into the dirt alongside the plate. He never imagined hitting a homer in his debut, though, and he certainly never pictured what would come next. 

Hwang was pulled into the clubhouse shower a few minutes after a 5-3 sweep-clinching win over the Rockies and surrounded as teammates emptied cans of beer on their new third baseman and cheered so loud that they could be heard from the press conference room. There are many quirky traditions in the KBO, where Hwang was a superstar, but the list does not include beer showers. Any confusion didn’t last long. 

“We had his translator in there with him,” Nick Hundley said, smiling. “We said, this is what you get when you hit a homer in the big leagues.”

You get something else, too: Another day in the lineup. Bruce Bochy has a tongue-in-cheek rule that if you hit a homer, you play the next day. The Giants, however, expect to get starting third baseman Eduardo Nuñez back from the disabled list on Friday in Pittsburgh. What will Bochy do with a 29-year-old rookie who hit a 417-foot laser shot in his third MLB at-bat?

“I have a loophole,” Bochy said. “We’re off tomorrow.”

Bochy might not have to use the loophole. Austin Slater, the starting left fielder, was still feeling tightness in his right hip Wednesday and Nuñez could move over to left for a few days, allowing the Giants a longer look at Hwang. It’s an audition that seemed to never be coming as late as Tuesday morning. But Conor Gillaspie showed up with back spasms, and with Christian Arroyo on the minor league disabled list, Nuñez a few days away, and Aaron Hill recently released, the Giants turned to Hwang. 

It’s the kind of break that you need to make your mark, but you also need talent and confidence in your own abilities, and Hwang oozes both. 

The Giants had hit just 20 homers at AT&T Park this season when Hwang stepped to the plate in the sixth. Hundley’s was the third in the past 15 home games, and it helped them head into the late innings tied up with the Rockies. Hwang had earlier driven in a run with a groundout and in his third at-bat he started by taking two balls from lefty Kyle Freeland. 

“My focus is always the same: Hit in my zone,” Hwang said through interpreter Mark Kim. “Because I’m a rookie, I figured once I got to a 2-0 count it might be a fastball down the middle, and that’s what happened.”

Hwang blasted it and briefly held his bat in the air, posing as the ball soared to the bleachers. He dramatically dropped the bat and started his first journey around the bases as the dugout exploded. 

“When it comes to bat flips, you don’t plan it,” Hwang said. “It comes naturally. I don’t know what I was thinking. It just happened.”

Hwang’s bat flips in South Korea were so legendary that YouTube videos made their way overseas. He had promised not to flip his bat in the big leagues, saying that he doesn’t want to get hit in retaliation. There are pitchers on Hwang’s own team who don’t approve of flips or drops, but his manager said he doesn’t care one bit. 

“I want these guys to be who they are and he’s just been a lot of fun to be around,” Bochy said. “He’s a great guy and he’s very popular in that clubhouse.”

Hwang’s work ethic this spring won teammates over, and he showed a willingness to jump right into the fray, whether he was making jokes or the butt of them. On St. Patrick’s Day, he entered Scottsdale Stadium with a green fedora and a green Tinker Bell shirt that read “I’m so fly … I never land.” Throughout the spring he handed out chocolate pies from boxes above his locker. During his time in Sacramento he regularly took teammates to Korean BBQ restaurants, where he was recognized as a celebrity. Hwang is so famous in his native country that multiple networks scrambled to air the Giants game at 4:45 a.m. Those in his hometown of Seoul either woke up to watch or woke up to celebrate. 

Thousands of miles away, Hwang focused on his new reality. As he packed to head to Pittsburgh, he exchanged a signed jersey for his first home run ball. The only No. 1 jersey Hwang had was the one on his back, so a fan walked away with an old Matt Duffy jersey instead. 

If Hwang can keep showing that power stroke, he’ll return in a week to a ballpark eager to cheer a new contributor. For now, the Giants are just happy to have another spark. 

“They were so excited for him and happy for him,” Bochy said. “They all know what he’s been through. He’s given up baseball in Korea to play here and he reaches his dream and hits a homer. It’s a special moment. These are moments you love.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' first sweep of 2017

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' first sweep of 2017

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — Some veteran Giants quietly grumbled Wednesday morning about how many potential homers got knocked down by the thick, seagull-filled air late Tuesday night. A day later, under a bright blue sky, the Giants made the park look small. 

Nick Hundley hit a two-run shot and Jae-gyun Hwang’s first MLB hit was a no-doubter to left, backing up a strong day for the pitching staff. The Giants won 5-3, sweeping the same Rockies squad that broomed them at Coors just a few days ago. 

The three-game winning streak is their first in nearly six weeks and the sweep is the first of the year. Here are five things to know from Jae Day at AT&T Park … 

—- Hwang’s homer screamed out to left at 108 mph and traveled an estimated 417 feet. He hit 53 homers his last two seasons in the KBO. The power is legit, and that poke certainly earned him an extended look, even with Eduardo Nuñez due back Friday or Saturday. Hwang is the 17th Giant to have his first hit be a homer. Adam Duvall (2014) was the last one to do it. Among current Giants, Hwang joins Brandon Crawford (2011).

—- Ty Blach faced some trouble early but managed to walk off with 6 1/3 innings under his belt and just one earned run. Blach was charged with two unearned runs, including one that came on his two-base throwing error. 

—- A day after Cory Gearrin got an at-bat, George Kontos was sent up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. He fouled one pitch off before striking out. So many fans gave up on this season over the past six weeks, and then Gearrin and Kontos strolled to the plate in a span of 15 hours. This is the best game in the world. 

—- With Mark Melancon the DL and Sam Dyson in need of a day off, Bruce Bochy got creative. George Kontos carried the lead from the seventh to eighth, and Steven Okert took it from there until the ninth. Hunter Strickland entered with two outs in the ninth and got Ian Desmond to fly out. 

—- Austin Slater returned to the lineup and went 1 for 3 with an 11-pitch walk. It’s clear that Slater’s hip is still a little tight — he jogged on a grounder deep to the hole at short, and he certainly would have beaten that out a week ago. With the way Slater is hitting, though, no point in risking it.