SAN FRANCISCO – Ryan Vogelsong did not break rhythm. He continued throwing on the bullpen mound when his name was announced as a previous Willie Mac Award honoree.
No nod or wave. Not even a pause. Just catch-stare-step-twist-throw, catch-stare-step-twist-throw, catch-stare-step-twist-throw.
The Willie Mac ceremony is a full-heart kind of thing. Vogelsong already was at capacity.
“That’s what makes this game tonight even tougher to take, because you never know,” Vogelsong said after a 4-1 loss to the San Diego Padres. “I wanted to end it with a good note with the possibility this is my last home game, depending on what happens in the playoffs. I just really wanted to have a good one to finish up.
“And I just blew it.”
That is a classic Vogelsong description, to take a two-run, broken-bat single and make it sound as if he sold state secrets. His night, and his season, ended with rotten luck when Padres backup catcher Rene Rivera swung at an inside fastball, ran out of the box holding an 8-inch shard of wood and watched a water balloon fall in shallow left field.
It was the last batter Vogelsong faced in the last inning of what could be his last season as a Giant. And it was all so emblematic. When the tarp malfunctioned at Wrigley Field, it was in a Vogelsong start. When the bullpen couldn’t hold a lead, it often was Vogelsong’s decision that disappeared. Those last two runs Friday night notched up his ERA to 3.996 – which will be rounded up to 4.00, on his baseball card.
There is always one pitcher on the staff that gets victimized by a lack of run support. Vogelsong’s stick this season was shorter than the remnants of Rivera’s bat. The Giants scored one run of support or fewer in 17 of his 32 starts, and didn’t score at all in six of his last eight home assignments. They needed an error to push across their only run in Friday’s loss, which guaranteed that they will hit the road, either bound for Pittsburgh or St. Louis, for the wild card playoff on Wednesday.
Vogelsong doesn’t know what October will hold, and if he’ll get another chance to pitch here at Third and King. He will be a free agent, and he knows there are no guarantees there, either.
But the 37-year-old knows he wants to keep pitching. He’s convinced himself that he can. And others, too.
“I still feel I’ve got a lot left,” said Vogelsong, who made 32 starts and threw 184 2/3 innings. “I still feel I can pitch and win in this league. Sometimes you need the breaks to go your way and I don’t feel I got a lot of them this year.”
There is validation in the fact that Vogelsong hit most of his incentives based on starts and innings, and will end up earning a bit more than the $6.5 million option that the Giants turned down last November.
Back in December, after he and the club agreed to a $5 million base with incentives, Vogelsong pulled no punches on a conference call with reporters: “Let’s just say the chip is firmly placed on my shoulder, and they know that.”
Vogelsong knows his way around this casino floor. He’s had to bet on himself most of his baseball life. As it turned out this season, the veteran right-hander visited the cash window in more ways than one.
“I don’t play this game for money,” said Vogelsong on Friday, after giving up four runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings. “I play this game for the love. A couple dollars here or there won’t make me happy or mad. I’m just gratified I took the ball every fifth day and I gave us a chance to win in a pretty good amount of them.”
Despite coming off a miserable, injury-marred year (4-6, 5.73 ERA, 1.56 WHIP), and then struggling to stay within his delivery most of the spring, Vogelsong reestablished himself as a durable presence. He is a logical candidate to be re-signed, along with Jake Peavy, given the Giants' lack of rotation depth in the system, along with Matt Cain's recent health history. Vogelsong also is very much in the mix to be the club’s No.2 starter in an NL Division Series, if the Giants advance that far.
Yusmeiro Petit might be the most efficient and has the best strikeout numbers in September among a group that also includes Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum. But Vogelsong was the man on the mound in Game 3 at Cincinnati in the 2012 NLDS, when the Giants needed to win the first of three consecutive elimination games. Vogelsong was the pitcher who opposed Homer Bailey on a night the Reds right-hander allowed one hit and struck out 10 in seven innings. Vogelsong found a way to grind through and compete against that, and the Giants won.
For the Giants to put their chips behind Vogelsong again, they’ll first need to get past the Pirates or Cardinals in the wild card game. That will be Madison Bumgarner’s assignment, and Vogelsong could not feel a better sense of security.
“He does things in here you guys don’t see that shows his leadership qualities,” Vogelsong said of Bumgarner, who became the fifth Willie Mac winner on the current roster when he was named this year’s honoree. “But the thing that stands out to me is the energy everybody has when he’s on the mound. There’s a feeling you’re going to win.”
[RELATED: Bumgarner honored with Willie Mac Award]
After Friday night’s results, the Giants know for certain they’ll have to win that wild card game on the road. Bruce Bochy, Bumgarner and Vogelsong echoed each other: They wanted this game at home for the fans, but they’re not intimidated at all to pack their bags – and they’ll take along clothes for more than one day, since they’d go straight to Washington if they were to advance.
“These guys, I don’t think it’ll matter to them. I don’t,” Bochy said.
Bumgarner is 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA in 18 road starts anyway, compared to 7-6 with a 4.03 ERA at home. Of course, those numbers might bring more comfort if Bumgarner didn’t see them as a fluke.
“I don’t really think about it a whole lot,” Bumgarner said. “I try to treat them all the same. Obviously we’d like to do it in front of the fans here, but hopefully there are a couple series after that to come.”
If that happens, it would mean another chance for Vogelsong to stand on the bullpen mound, his heart full.