SAN FRANCISCO – Ryan Vogelsong turned 36 in July. Marco Scutaro will turn 38 in October.
They have seen the wide, wide world. They’ve been around the circuit a time or three. They are ever so familiar with the duel from 60 feet, 6 inches – and they are used to being the smaller dog in that fight.
It’s the little guys who bare their fangs first.
They contributed to a victory for the Giants on Tuesday that was more function than form, and ended with Scutaro listening for a strike call that umpire Mike Everitt did not utter. It was a walk-off walk and a 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox that the Giants and their fans accepted as eagerly as a free bobblehead.
“When you bust your butt for three hours,” said Vogelsong, “it’s good to have things go your way at the end.”
Is there a difference between giving up and giving in? Vogelsong had every reason to do the latter in the first inning when the defense twice broke down – Scutaro’s misplay probably should have been an error – and the right-hander’s fastball barely cracked 90 mph.
But Buster Posey visited the mound and told Vogelsong to let everything go and keep making pitches. That’s what he did, limiting the Red Sox to one run in an inning that nearly became a tire fire.
“It could have been really ugly,” Vogelsong said.
The third inning was just as grueling. He needed 30 pitches to get through that one, which began with Shane Victorino taking a 2-2, 88 mph fastball and denting the top of the ambulance beyond the left field fence. But Vogelsong turned to his curveball again, and mixed enough pitches to strand two more runners in scoring position.
Then he held serve. Again and again. And as shameless as the Giants were in wasting runners at third base, eventually, the margin remained manageable enough for a foul sacrifice fly and a bases-loaded walk to add up to a victory.
“We’ve been on the other end of these games, so good for the guys,” said Bochy, who saw his club win their ninth in walk-off fashion but just their second since the end of May. “You take it any way you can get it, and this was a good one.”
This walk-off lacked the big finish. The crowd didn’t rejoice at the walk-off walk because Scutaro paused in the batter’s box, unsure if Brayan Villareal’s 3-0 pitch would be deemed close enough.
“Sometimes 3-0, anything close they kind of call it,” said Scutaro, who did not deem it wise to rush to first base. “Sometimes umpires don’t like that. They feel you’re showing (them) up. So I was just waiting to see.”
He said hitting coach Hensley Meulens told him that Villareal had been wild in recent outings. So he was in take mode. And he’ll take the result, gladly.
“I mean, we’re just dying for a win,” said Scutaro, who slammed his helmet in frustration when he couldn’t beat out a chopper with two outs and a runner on third in the fifth. “It gets frustrating with our starting pitchers doing a great job and we can’t even score a run for them.”
Vogelsong’s work was commendable in more ways than one.
His career renaissance the previous two years was all about escapability. He would plow through trouble, strand runners and make pitches under the heaviest duress. It was a skill that abandoned him in his first nine starts before fracturing his finger. That might have been due to the World Baseball Classic, or his advancing age, or the workload this past October.
He didn’t have his bat-shattering movement or 92 mph fastball back Tuesday night. And if his nastier stuff never comes back, he'll have to pitch effectively with what he has.
This time, he had escapability on his side.
“One thing I talked to Boch about when I was on the DL was not giving in to hitters,” Vogelsong said. “So I went out there with that mindset: stay on the corners until I didn’t have a place to put ‘em.”
Vogelsong called it his best rhythm all season when he retired 13 of his final 14 batters. Bochy agreed.
“Without question,” the manager said. “I thought his breaking ball was better, the changeup – the secondary pitches were all better and located well. You pitch with what stuff you have. Even when his velocity was up a little, he’s a guy who has to hit his spots.”
Said Scutaro: “I think the way he threw the ball today was the way I saw him last year. He was painting the corners and mixing pitches. He was very good tonight.”
The Giants will need Vogelsong to be very good for a lot longer. As long as he remains physically sound the rest of the season, they’re resolved to pick up his $6.5 million for 2014. Scutaro, of course, is under contract for two more seasons beyond this one.
Players regress in their mid- to late 30s. It’s a fact of life. And although Scutaro has kept his batting average at an acceptable level, his chronic back issues clearly have affected him in the field. This is a team that simply must catch the ball more dependably if they hope to make this season an aberration. Scutaro has to be better next year.
You can’t win with pitching and defense … without pitching and defense.
Do they simply cross their fingers and hope that Vogelsong and Scutaro bounce back next year? Or do they put resources toward insurance at second base and the rotation, knowing every dollar they allocate to those aims would give them less to spend on the outfield, which must be a clear priority? It’s going to make for a tricky offseason, certainly.
It’s a question that can wait, for now. The Giants had a walk-off win to celebrate.