Stephen Vogt is too happy to be here to know how to front off his excitement, or couch his postgame answers, or be anything other than the happiest guy in the room when he is the best player on the field.
Thus, as Saturday’s 1-0 Oakland win in Game Two of this American League Division Series swirled around him, he knew barely enough to get through the innings and let the hero moment find him.
[Instant Replay: Gray dominates, A's walk off in Game 2 of ALDS]
Put another was he ran to first with the winning hit in the bottom of the ninth, he said only, “I think I kind of blacked out. I don’t remember running down to first base.”
But he did, completing the best story he will ever tell his children or grandchildren – the minor league catcher who saved the Athletics from doom.
Sure, the line drive single in the ninth off Rick Porcello with the bases loaded and nobody out was the hero shot – a knee-high 1-1 fastball down the middle of the plate that Vogt drove straight up the spine of the diamond to score Yoenis Cespedes.
But there was also the 10-pitch at-bat he ground out to end the seventh inning – an at-bat that ended with his third strikeout of the night, but also finished Detroit starter Justin Verlander.
“He really battled, fouled off a lot of pitches, and that pretty much did it for me,” Verlander said as he surveyed “one of the toughest at-bats I’ve ever had in my career.” “If I get him out in one or two pitches, maybe I can go back out for the eighth, but after that, I was done.”
And there was the strike-‘em-out-throw-‘em-out double play in the fifth that ended the Tigers’ only threat of the game – a moment which manager and former catcher Bob Melvin was most impressed with. Omar Infante had walked, took second on a Don Kelly groundout and went to third on an infield single by Jose Iglesias, putting runners at the corners for leadoff hitter Austin Jackson.
“In all honesty, Sonny (Gray, the rookie starter who dominated the Tigers for eight innings) is usually really quick to the plate,” Melvin said, “but on that pitch, I think he was as slow as he was all night. Like 1.4 (seconds), so Stephen really had to get off a great throw to get (Jose) Iglesias at second. To me, that was probably other than the game-winning hit, that was the play of the game.”
In a game with no runs until the last pitch, that serves as well as any. But if you’re looking for an overarching theme, it was Vogt and Gray together, Sacramento River Cats for more than half the season before being elevated to Broadway – Gray, as the team’s highest rated pitching prospect, and Vogt, as a catcher who hadn’t gotten hurt. They had prepped for starts before, though none this big, so they reduced the game to a standard Pacific Coast League matchup.
Of course they did.
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“We were talking before the game about, hey, it's just like this lineup is similar to a lineup in Triple-A. Obviously, they're a little bit better than that, but similar type hitters, and to think about it that way rather than think about the names. And actually, the Fresno Grizzlies have a similar lineup. Aggressive hitters, and things like that."
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Aggressive, and almost inert. In a series that has amassed six runs, 25 hits and 41 strikeouts even before the start of Game Three, the two offenses have been largely reduced to dust. The A’s, because they have a hard time putting bat to ball (they have 29 of the 41 strikeouts, that’s how hard it’s been), and the Tigers because Miguel Cabrera is hurt and none of his teammates have done anything to hide his injury for him. They have gone scoreless for all but the first inning of Game 1, and have two extra base hits after being second in baseball during the regular season.
Frankly, the Fresno Grizzlies should probably be offended.
But as was clear in Game 1 and reinforced Saturday, this is how the series is most likely to play out, with dominating starts while the teams decide who wants to defy the ennui and produce a hero.
Saturday, it was Stephen Vogt, the 28-year-old minor league lifer who got his break, held it fast and for one night was the undisputed life of the party. He won the game with a hit, saved it with his arm, extended it with his persistence, and made it possible by helping the nonpareil Gray be as Gray as he can be.
And if he can embellish this story when he starts telling it to his grandkids, he’ll have to include spaceships, death rays and the Congressional Medal of Honor, because for baseball players with his career path, this is the lottery right here.