SAN FRANCISCO -- Forget, for a moment, the stress of trying to drive in a runner from third. Forget the squirming that comes when a team is scuffling as badly as it has in years and the heavy division favorite comes streaking into town.
Ryan Vogelsong was facing a whole different level of pressure in the days leading up to his start against the Dodgers.
The 37-year-old has been around long enough to know that the game can be taken from you in an instant, especially when the team is struggling, you don’t have a long-term contract or a defined role, and you’ve turned opponents into .400 hitters.
“If I don’t pitch well, who knows?” he said. “This game is not a ‘try’ game. It’s a results game. I had a lot of emotions going into today.”
Vogelsong wasn’t guaranteed a start when he returned to the Giants as a long reliever, and he wasn’t guaranteed another one when Bruce Bochy tapped him on the shoulder after an injury to Jake Peavy. He said there was a lot going through his mind this week, and some of the thoughts surely turned dark. After all, the Giants have two starters they expect back from the DL at some point and two position players — Hunter Pence and Travis Ishikawa — who will need roster spots, too.
[Instant Replay: Giants walk off again, sweep Dodgers]
“I was just feeling I really needed to have a good outing,” Vogelsong said. “I had a lot of emotions going into today.”
The emotion coming out of it was a familiar one. Vogelsong pitched well enough to keep the Giants in the game, then watched as they stormed back for a 3-2 walk-off win on Justin Maxwell’s single in the 10th. The win clinched a sweep, and immediately afterward, Bochy said Vogelsong will face the Dodgers again next week, and he’ll probably get a few more starts after that one. After days of feeling his back was against the wall, Vogelsong said he might try to keep it that way, even if he is firmly in the rotation for now.
“I feel I’m kind of better in these situations,” he said. “It kind of feels like back in 2011, where every start I wasn’t sure if I would get another one. Maybe this is pressure I need. Maybe this is what I need to get my head out of my butt, so to speak.”
Maybe this is what the Giants needed, too.
This is, after all, the group that came from behind again and again in 2012 to win a title, and the group that went the difficult wild-card route last fall to win another. The Giants lost games nine and 10 leading up to the Dodgers series and they trailed the West leaders by six games, but they responded, emphatically, jumping away from that wall with their best stretch of baseball since last October.
“It’s been a tough homestand, but this made it not too bad,” Bochy said. “We just weren’t playing the type of ball we’re capable of. This was a big test for us, and they rose to the occasion.”
The players rising in big moments were newcomers. Casey McGehee led off the ninth with a single that led to the tying run. Maxwell shook off an earlier liner up the middle that was caught and smacked one just as hard down the line, driving in the winning run.
“I go up there every at-bat just trying to hit the baseball hard, and you control what you can control,” he said. “Every time I go up I’m just trying to hit it hard.”
The one that did get through led to a raucous celebration as the Giants swept the Dodgers for the first time since May 3-5, 2013. That also happened to be the last time the Giants walked the Dodgers off on back-to-back days. It was Buster Posey and Guillermo Quiroz two years ago; this week it was Joe Panik and Maxwell, who got a taste of the rivalry for the first time.
“It’s a lot different in person,” said Maxwell, who grew up rooting for the Giants.
The right fielder said this is the best rivalry he has been a part of, joking that it far exceeds the Maryland-Duke rivalry he experienced in college.
“We said Duke was our rival,” he said, smiling. “But Duke didn’t see it that way.”
Maxwell needed only to take a glimpse at Vogelsong’s intensity on Thursday to get a sense of this rivalry. Vogelsong has always embraced the Giants-Dodgers thing, but he said seeing blue on the other side didn’t give him a needed jolt. He was fired up enough as it was, aware that this was just an April game but still potentially a huge one for his own career. He went out and gave up three hits — two of them homers — in six innings and made sure Bochy didn’t have to turn to both his long relievers with a series at Coors Field looming.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Bochy said. “He made a couple mistakes, but overall, I thought it was a real nice effort.”
It was backed by a triple-happy shortstop, a spry stretch from Angel Pagan and two newcomers who came up big in the final two innings.
“We’ve got some different guys in here, but one thing hasn’t changed,” Vogelsong said. “This team is resilient.”