SAN FRANCISCO – Madison Bumgarner had a towel slung over his shoulder and an annoyed look on his face.
“I would never, ever say anything like that,” he said, after his shower shoes came to a full-squeak stop in the Giants clubhouse Friday night. “Not remotely close to that. No way. … I want this to get straightened up here.”
Bumgarner was adamant: He did not demand the ball on short rest for Game 4, either before or after the Kansas City Royals flagged down and bullpenned and 11-pitch at-batted their way to a taut, 3-2 victory in Game 3 of the World Series at AT&T Park.
He did not tell teammates, as one respected national reporter posted on Twitter, that, “My pitching tomorrow is not an issue. I am (pitching). I will not take no for an answer.” No, he did not walk into Bruce Bochy’s office and twist any arms. He only stopped by that office after the controversy had been good and squashed, just to let his manager know there was as much truth in it as the Giants selling the naming rights to McCovey Cove.
So it is Ryan Vogelsong, then, who will take the ball and try to even up a series against a talented, athletic and versatile team that can shrink the outfield acreage at AT&T Park, ambush you on the first pitch of an at-bat or wear you down on the 11th one, and, if they hold a lead into the sixth inning, throw a bullpen at you that allows as much hope as playing Lotto to settle a tax lien.
And if all this talk of pushing aside Vogelsong serves to put a chip on his shoulder, well, it might turn out for the good. He tends to do ornery better than most.
“I mean, there’s no question about it,” Bumgarner said of Vogelsong. “I’ve been here with him since 2011 and I’ve seen what he can do. There’s nobody I’d rather have out there.”
It was Vogelsong who took the ball in 2012 at Cincinnati, with the Giants down 0-2 and needing to sweep a Reds club that hadn’t lost three consecutive all season. Compared to those odds, the Giants’ current plight is like having a C-note in your wallet when you need to tip the bell desk.
They knew the Royals would present challenges that the 2010 Rangers and 2012 Tigers did not. Their awareness is all the more keen now, having seen Lorenzo Cain, snubbed as a Gold Glove finalist, glide to make two catches in right field, having seen the hulking Salvador Perez, his legs miraculously full of lightning after starting 154 games behind the plate, pounce on a bunt and zip throws to bases, and of course, having seen the slaver-soaked teeth of the Royals’ monstrous bullpen.
It is one thing to note that the Giants are 1-for-24 with 10 strikeouts against Brandon Finnegan, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland. It is another to watch Joe Panik, who had struck out two times in 60 postseason plate appearances, face Davis and take a blindfolded, off-balance half-swing at a snarl of a curveball.
“Just coming out of the hand, I didn’t pick it up,” Panik said. “It’s a hard downer.”
Here’s another: The Giants trail in an active World Series for the first time since 2002, when they were behind 2-1 after losing Game 3 to the Anaheim Angels. The numbers will tell you that when a team wins Game 3 to take a 2-to-1 edge, that team wins the World Series 66.1 percent of the time. OK, then. And Vanderbilt has covered the spread three times in a row when playing in the state of Mississippi. (Maybe. I’m not sure. I just made that up.)
The percentage game is a tired act. Not as mind-numbingly stupefying as a guerrilla marketing hoax, mind you. But they attend the same family reunions. What is a right-thinking person to do?
“Maybe not look at the numbers?” Giants left-hander Javier Lopez said. “I don’t know. But I know I haven’t seen any stat that says 100 percent. And I think we came back pretty good in 2012. We understand the situation. I mean, we don’t expect these guys to give us a game here just because we’re home now.”
The Giants did try to leverage the home-field advantage, though, upon returning to the shores of (yes, still) McCovey Cove. You didn’t need to be a landscape foreman to notice the Giants watered down the infield until it was a fine slurry, hoping to gum up those fleet blue cleats.
“It was watered down; it was sandy out there,” Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson told the Los Angeles Times. “When I took off, I left a big divot in the ground. They’re just trying to slow our running game down. Typical move. We’re not surprised by it.”
The Royals do not have a stolen base in three games. They swiped seven in their wild card comeback victory over the A’s. So the Giants haven’t seen every reverse halfback toss in the AL champs’ playbook yet.
Instead, with no ball bearings or bear traps in the outfield, at least to anyone’s knowledge, the Royals put their speed to work on grass while taking hits away from Buster Posey and Travis Ishikawa in the first two innings. Usually, with such a spacious outfield, the Giants can mine enough singles and doubles to bring something of value to the assayer's office. After Cain and the Royals jumped their claim, the approaches changed and the swings got bigger. And Posey still doesn’t have an extra-base hit this postseason.
Jeremy Guthrie used it to his advantage. The Giants had two threadbare singles before Michael Morse’s pinch double in the sixth knocked the Royals’ right-handed starter from the game. Ned Yost walked to the mound like a smiling general with a second regiment hidden at the enemy’s flank.
“My mindset was I’m not getting beaten in the sixth inning with the bullpen that I’ve got,” Yost said. “I just wasn’t going to take any chances. It’s a big game. It’s a pivotal game, in my mind. I was going to go with my bullpen.”
Outside of an RBI ground out from Posey, the Giants could not touch that bullpen -- giving them all the more urgency to make something happen in the early innings against left-hander Jason Vargas in Game 4.
But not enough urgency to counter with Bumgarner.
“It's about confidence in Vogey, and I've talked about we had pushed Madison pretty good here,” Bochy said. “It's been a long postseason, and he's had a lot of starts. So we're going to keep things in order and go with Vogey. He has experience. He's pitched great in the postseason, and he had one little hiccup, but it's all about ‑‑ we have confidence in all these guys, including Vogey.
“It was a good ballgame tonight, but we're not going to change things because we lost.”
Instead, Bochy will manage with urgency but not panic. The Giants will strive to hold fast, bind together, keep the faith in themselves and with one another. Those are all nice concepts and they make for hopeful sound bites. But when you hear players express disappointment in not helping 39-year-old Tim Hudson win his first World Series start, instead of distress over falling behind in this series, it lends authenticity to the words.
“It was neat. It was,” said Posey, on catching Hudson. “I mean, I grew up watching the guy in Atlanta, and even Oakland. So it was special to catch him. I thought he was great. If he had nerves, he didn’t really show it. I mean, he’s getting locked in for the game but he’s still not afraid to make a joke now and then. So it was same old, same old.”
Then came the first pitch, and an ice-bucket shock. Alcides Escobar surprised Hudson by jumping on the very first offering of the game for a double. He scored on a ground out, and the Royals added two more in the sixth. Alex Gordon’s RBI double ended Hudson’s otherwise solid night, and then the Royals proved they are just as dangerous on the 11th pitch as the first one.
Eric Hosmer fouled off six pitches from Lopez – two sliders, two sinkers and a curve – and showed the same amount of restraint as umpire Jim Reynolds on a baited hook of a 2-2 pitch. Lopez tried for a corner with the full-count pitch. It moved middle, and Hosmer whistled it into center field to drive in what ended up being a difference-making run.
Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs determined it was the first time a left-handed batter worked Lopez for a plate appearance of at least 11 pitches since 2005, when J.T. Snow did it.
“That’s how you describe it – a battle,” Lopez said. “He fouled off some pretty good pitches, I felt. I threw a pretty good 2-2 pitch and didn’t get the call. I tried to throw a good sinker and he stayed through it.
“He forced me to throw one more pitch and he squared it up.”
Now it’s up to the Giants – and Vogelsong, not Bumgarner -- to draw square in this series. They’ve won three elimination games in a row before. They’d prefer to get this straightened up here a little sooner.