SAN FRANCISCO – Baseball makes no apologies for being a game of failure. But it does extend an olive branch of sorts.
It comes in the form of opportunity. There is nearly always another game, another inning, another at-bat or even the next pitch. Especially in April, there is always another chance for redemption. (And sometimes in October, too. You can ask Barry Zito about that one.)
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So it happened Wednesday night for Ryan Vogelsong, 12 days after he was unable to fashion a win out of an 8-0 lead at Dodger Stadium in his season debut. So it happened for Pablo Sandoval, whose make-good moment involved a significantly tighter time frame.
Two pitches after Sandoval took the ugliest of guess hacks at a first pitch from lefty J.P. Howell, the Giants’ No.3 hitter reacted to an ankle-high sinker and dumped it into center field for the tiebreaking hit.
The Giants made it stand up in a 2-1 victory over their archrivals – their sixth consecutive one-run game. They’ve won four of them, including two against the deep-pocketed Dodgers here to position themselves for a try at a sweep.
“That’s our style,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who hasn’t forgotten old memes. “We’ve been like this for awhile – for years. It’s good for the guys to know every play, every pitch counts.”
It’s that realization that makes it so much easier to put past failures behind them. The present tense counts just as much. More, even.
So it didn’t matter that the Giants’ heroes on Bochy’s birthday, aside from four stalwart relievers, were a .186-hitting third baseman and a No.5 starter who entered with an 8.00 ERA.
“I don’t care about my numbers,” said Sandoval, making some kind of statement for a guy in his free-agent walk year. “Why (not)? It’s part of the game. Stay humble and do the best that I can up there.”
It was that first wild swing that made Sandoval take a deep breath.
“After that pitch, I just said, `Calm down. Play pepper. You’ve got a big field out there,’” he said. “That’s what I did in that situation.”
Sandoval broke his bat on the single and bruised his knuckles but said he would be fine. The Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez looked to be in considerably more pain when Vogelsong hit him with a two-seamer that ran too far inside in the seventh inning. Ramirez spiked his helmet but to the Dodgers’ great fortune, X-rays did not reveal a fracture.
Vogelsong said as he watched Ramirez stomp around in pain, he didn’t flash back to the pitch that crushed his own hand last season.
“It’s unfortunate to see it happen,” he said, “but at the same time, I’ve got to be able to throw inside.”
That’s the attack-mode mentality Vogelsong displayed all night as he pumped first-pitch strikes and got the Giants back in the dugout quickly. Even when he appeared to miss Buster Posey’s glove, he kept the ball off the barrel and the Dodgers off balance. That’s what can happen when you throw pitches with conviction, he said.
It would be so easy for a 36-year-old pitcher like Vogelsong, coming off a miserable season, to lose faith in himself. But he’s also wizened enough to know that one start has no bearing on the next, unless he lets his brain become a blotter for bad memories.
He insisted all along that it would take one mechanical wrench turn to get his pitches to take the shape he wanted.
“It all kind of came together tonight,” he said. “I was focused on just repeating it and letting the ball go where it goes.”
It still took Jean Machi making two defensive plays and getting a double-play grounder to strand both of Vogelsong’s runners in the seventh. And it took a bullpen with the league’s second best ERA to protect a one-run lead after Sandoval provided it.
The teams that pile up 90-plus wins are skilled at finding different ways to come out on top: A dominant start here, a slugfest there, a late-inning comeback now and then. But for the Giants, in this ballpark, they absolutely must be able to win these tug-of-war, one-run games. So far, they’re showing the ability to pull the rope.
And if they slip one night, the next opportunity is usually a day away.