SAN FRANCISCO – Ryan Vogelsong is an All-Star, a World Series hero and he was a stalwart arm for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
That’s not the dossier of a No.5 starter, even if Vogelsong happened to start the fifth game of the Giants’ season Saturday afternoon. The Giants figure to have a huge advantage over what other teams will employ at the back end of their rotations.
But his season debut was not his finest work, and even a rare power display at China Basin couldn’t make up the deficit. Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval went deep, but Carlos Beltran’s tiebreaking, two-run single in the fifth inning was more damaging as the St. Louis Cardinals handed the Giants a 6-3 defeat.
Beltran’s bases-loaded hit was one of nine the Cardinals collected in 5 1/3 innings against Vogelsong – all of them singles.
Buster Posey received his NL MVP trophy in a pregame ceremony and fans received Posey bobbleheads. But the man of the day was hitless until a double off the bricks in the eighth inning.
The Giants are 2 for 21 with runners in scoring position thus far this season
Starting pitching report
Vogelsong often describes his starts as a constant battle with himself, even when the surface appears placid enough.
The whitecaps were apparent enough this time, especially in a first inning when his delivery was all over the place and he struggled to throw strikes. Still, it took an infield hit, a walk, a passed ball, a wild pitch and a broken-bat single (by Carlos Beltran) for the Cardinals to account for the first earned run against a Giants starter this season.
Their streak with a 0.00 ERA ended after 26 innings.
(Vogelsong did appear to catch a break in the first inning when umpire Angel Hernandez called Matt Holliday out on strikes even though he appeared to hit a foul tip into the dirt.)
Vogelsong wasn’t throwing his hardest, either. His fastball was down a mph or three from his usual 91-93 range.
But he found his slider and mixed it well with his changeup and curve to retire 10 of 11 batters, beginning with Yadier Molina’s ground ball to end the first inning.
Vogelsong was at his best in the fourth, when he got three outs on just seven pitches – all of them strikes, none of them over 87 mph. He started that inning by going curve, changeup, slider to strike out Beltran.
But Vogelsong couldn’t hang on to a 2-1 lead in the fifth, as the Cardinals pecked him for three runs on a series of two-out hits. Two of the four hits in the inning didn’t leave the infield, including Allen Craig’s roller that turned into a single when Pablo Sandoval stepped in front of shortstop Brandon Crawford and couldn’t make a clean stop on a diving attempt.
Then Vogelsong tried to sneak a 1-1 fastball past Beltran, which doesn’t work too often when it’s at the belt and over the plate. The pitch ended up in right field for a tiebreaking, two-run single.
The Cardinals tacked on one more run in the sixth when Daniel Descalso hit a leadoff single, stole second base and scored on Pete Kozma’s single.
Last year, Vogelsong threw quality starts in 18 of his first 19 outings. He’s 0 for 1 so far this season after allowing five runs on nine hits – all singles -- and two walks in 5 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out six.
Jose Mijares recovered well from a rough debut outing at Dodger Stadium. He got two quick fly outs to center field in relief of Vogelsong in the sixth. Then George Kontos retired the side in the seventh and eighth.
At the plate
The Giants hit multiple home runs in just five of 81 home games last season. Their 31 homers were the fewest by a major league club at home in a season since 1992.
So yes, it was a rare sight to see the steam cannons firing twice on Saturday. Hunter Pence led off the second inning with a no-doubt shot to center field, and Pablo Sandoval momentarily energized the crowd with a solo homer in the eighth.
(Pence and Sandoval both homered Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, too.)
Sandoval contributed another rarity. His two-out single in the third inning scored Angel Pagan from second base to give the Giants a 2-1 lead. The club had been 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position for the year before Sandoval shortened up and hit a line drive over shortstop Pete Kozma’s head.
But one bad break might have changed the game in the sixth, after Shelby Miller issued consecutive one-out walks to Pence and Brandon Belt to end his afternoon. In came sidewinding left-hander Randy Choate, and Manager Bruce Bochy pinch-hit Joaquin Arias for Gregor Blanco. Arias hit a hard line drive down the first base line, but Allen Craig was there to snare it and step on the bag for an easy double play.
Belt had his share of bad luck, too, while still searching for his first hit of the season. He lined out to center field and first base in his first two trips.
Pagan had his first good umpire blowup of the season when he argued the strike zone with plate ump Angel Hernandez in the seventh. Pagan appeared to argue strenuously enough to be ejected, and it’s a good thing he didn’t draw the thumb as Bochy raced onto the field to drag him away. The Giants didn’t have another outfielder on the bench.
Is it too much to ask Yadier Molina to make errors in back-to-back games?
The Giants announced 41,402 paid. And because the Giants doubled the number of bobbleheads to 40,000, the lines outside the ballpark didn’t reach Soviet Moscow proportions.
The Giants receive their World Series rings on Sunday before finishing their three-game series with the Cardinals. Matt Cain (0-0, 0.00) looks to follow up his six scoreless innings on opening day with another strong outing. He’ll oppose right-hander Adam Wainwright (0-1, 4.50), the Cards’ opening-day starter.