SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants knew what everyone else did: The Kansas City Royals could pressure their defense and pitching staff with their speed.
But the Royals were proving dangerous for another reason.
They could pressure an opposing lineup, too. They shrink the outfield with their athleticism. They shorten the game with their bullpen. They can put you in a diving bell and make you believe you’re running low on oxygen.
The Giants won Game 4 and drew even in this World Series for one reason. They did not fall into that trap.
They came back from a three-run deficit and kept on breathing deeply, and a sellout crowd couldn’t have delighted more in the free-flowing rallies without an open tap and a plastic cup. Pablo Sandoval sloughed off his right-handed struggles to punch two huge hits, including the tie-breaking single in the sixth inning, Joe Panik struck for a pair of doubles and the Giants were just as effervescent on the bases as they were at the plate while taking an 11-4 victory at AT&T Park Saturday night.
Yusmeiro Petit pitched three more hospital-sanitized innings after Ryan Vogelsong couldn’t survive a deli slicer in the third, and the Giants reduced this Fall Classic to a three-game series.
Starting pitching report
The Giants turned to Vogelsong not so much because they were 6-0 in his postseason stats but because they knew he’d leave everything on the field. And the hour was not dire enough to ask Madison Bumgarner to pitch on short rest.
For two innings, Vogelsong cut and sank his fastball while scattering two singles. He was not hit especially hard in the third inning, either. But one tiny execution mistake coupled with misfortune led to a grinding, 34-pitch inning that he couldn’t escape.
Pitcher Jason Vargas, a former hitting star at LSU, set the tone by working Vogelsong for eight pitches before flying out. Alcides Escobar punched a single up the middle and Alex Gordon hit a grounder to the right side that had the potential for an inning-ending double play. But first baseman Brandon Belt double clutched, presumably to get a better grip on a wet ball, and he still didn’t manage one when he threw it. His toss to second base was high and Brandon Crawford had to leap for it, making for a stuttered turn. Gordon easily beat the throw.
The rest was … well, have we mentioned that Vogelsong was the guy who started the tarp game at Wrigley Field, and ended the regular season with a broken-bat RBI hit that pushed his ERA to 3.996 (rounded to 4.00 on the baseball card)?
First, Gordon stole the Royals’ first base of the World Series when Buster Posey’s throw hit him in the shoulder. Then Lorenzo Cain reached on a two-out infield single to shortstop, and Eric Hosmer followed with a chopper to the right side. Vogelsong lunged for it but got nowhere near the high bounce, and the effort served to take him out a direct line to first base. Belt fielded the ball and fed Vogelsong in time, but the pitcher had no chance to look back to find the bag. When he stepped for it, he found nothing but flat earth. A second stab was too late as a run scored to make it 1-1.
Mike Moustakas walked and Bochy was in a box. If he had to go to the bullpen, it’d be for just one out because the pitcher’s spot was due to lead off the bottom of the third. That was not the time to burn long man Yusmeiro Petit. So he had Jean Machi, an ineffective right-hander, warming in the bullpen.
Bochy trusted Vogelsong over Machi, understandably enough. But his battling right-hander could not record the third out. With his pitch count soaring, he left hittable pitches over the middle to Omar Infante – who was 9 for 14 lifetime against Vogelsong – and Salvador Perez. Infante’s single drove in two and Perez followed with another to drive in a run and cap the four-run rally.
By then, Bochy had no choice. Out came Vogelsong, whose 2 2/3 innings represented the shortest World Series start by a Giant since Livan Hernandez lasted just two innings in that fateful Game 7 loss at Anaheim in 2002.
In came Machi, who walked No. 8 hitter Jarrod Dyson and nearly did the same to Vargas. The Royals pitcher started toward first base after taking a 2-2 pitch, freezing in mid-stride as he realized his mistake. Machi came back with another inside pitch and got the benefit of the call to end the inning and strand the bases loaded. It ended up being a pivotal moment in what was then a 4-1 game.
Petit was next, and once again, and he came equipped with a tourniquet, a solar blanket, a snake bite kit and waterproof matches. The right-hander scattered two hits over three shutout innings to continue a remarkable postseason run in which he hasn’t allowed a run in 12 innings.
Jeremy Affeldt pitched the seventh inning, Sergio Romo handled the eighth and with a seven-run lead, Hunter Strickland, who entered to audible groans, was given the chance to get right with a scoreless ninth.
At the plate
Giants hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens said it two hours before the first pitch: “The way we take it, we’re the ones that can pressure them to make plays. And so far, they’ve made them. We’ve got to keep doing the same thing.”
They did. They combined it with near flawless baserunning. And then they did it some more.
The Giants trailed 4-1 after the third inning and their run in the first inning – a leadoff walk to Gregor Blanco, a wild pitch, a stolen base and Hunter Pence’s RBI ground out – only plumped up the narrative of the “plucky Giants scoring runs without benefit of a hit.”
Those hits came, though. Their comeback began in the third inning against Vargas when Matt Duffy lined a pinch single, then got a tremendous jump to score on Posey’s two-out single to Gordon, a premium defender with a premium arm, in left field. Sandoval took a sand wedge swing at a pitch way outside, though, striking out to end the inning. It was the kind of right-handed swing the Giants saw all too often during the regular season when the switch-hitting Panda batted .199 against left-handers.
Trailing 4-2, they pieced together the tying runs in the fifth. Panik led off with a double that knocked Vargas from the game. Jason Frasor entered to face Posey, who hit a ground out that moved Panik to third. With a runner at third base and less than two out, Pence had a clear mandate. He did better than trade an out for a run, grounding a single up the middle. Left-hander Danny Duffy entered and Sandoval, given another chance to make a difference from the right side, took a slashing swing at a fastball on the outer edge for a single to left field. Pence made a perfect read to go from first to third, then Belt drew a four-pitch walk as the Royals’ lefty flailed his arms after three pitches that weren’t close. With the bases loaded, Juan Perez hit a flare to center and Dyson came up with a remarkable catch, taking out a chunk of turf with his left knee as he landed on his stomach. But Dyson could do nothing more than shovel the ball 30 feet to second base, where Sandoval smartly had retreated. Pence also had his wits about him, scampering back to tag and then scoring the tying run without a play.
It was a tie game into the sixth inning – just as it was in Game 2 at Kauffman Stadium. Once again, the home team made the push.
The Giants sent eight batters to the plate in a three-run sixth against lefty Brandon Finnegan, who was throwing for Texas Christian in the College World Series just four months ago. Joaquin Arias started the rally with a pinch-hit single, Blanco fouled off a bunt attempt before lacing a two-strike single over the shortstop’s head, then both runners advanced on Panik’s sacrifice.
The Royals intentionally walked Posey to load the bases, and with the infield halfway in, they did not deviate from the strategy when Pence grounded to short. Alcides Escobar threw for the predetermined forceout at the plate instead of trying to turn two. The inning came down to Sandoval’s right-handed swing, and he concussed the Royals again. He lined Finnegan’s pitch up the middle to score two runs, as Posey motored home from second base – no easy send, considering he had been thrown out at the plate three times already this postseason. But Posey beat the throw, then Pence scored from second base when Belt snuck a ground single through the right side.
The Giants led 7-4 and hadn’t reached their catch limit.
They batted around in a four-run seventh inning that, just because they didn’t have one yet, included one of Tim Flannery’s patented RTIs (run thrown in, for the uninitiated).
Crawford led off with an infield single, Michael Morse drew a pinch walk then Crawford scored when Royals lefty Tim Collins fielded Blanco’s bunt single and threw it away. Panik followed with a two-run double – another huge hit off a lefty -- that all but ensured that this series would be shortened to a best-of-3.
It also more or less ensured this: even if Marco Scutaro is healthy enough to play next season, the Giants won’t give a second thought to Panik as a platoon guy.
Belt couldn’t get a grip in the third inning, but it’s amazing how an offensive downpour can cover over mistakes.
Perez made the defensive grab of the night when he sprinted down the line and slid to take a hit away from Gordon in the sixth. When you rob a Gold Glove left fielder, it’s called reciprocity.
The Giants announced 43,066 paid. This one was a crowd pleaser.
The Giants and Royals meet in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday at AT&T Park. Madison Bumgarner (3-1, 1.40 ERA) takes the mound against Royals right-hander James Shields (1-1, 7.11) in a rematch of Game 1. First pitch is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. PDT.