Vogelsong makes clutch pitches to outduel Sanchez in Game 4 win
DETROIT -- Is it just the San Francisco Giants' time? No. Don't say that. This isn't a mystical occurrence; it's a well-earned reward. The Giants are killing the Detroit Tigers' season with a thousand perfectly placed cuts. Pitching. Fielding. Timely hitting. You have probably heard this before, if you have watched baseball at any point since 1893.
If baseball is a game of timing, the Giants have mastered it. There is no better example than Saturday night, when the Giants beat the Tigers 2-0 to take a 3-0 Series lead.
They won a pitching duel. Sort of.
I will explain.
The stat lines show that the Giants' Ryan Vogelsong (zero earned runs) outpitched the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez (two earned runs). But did he, really? These things can be hard to measure, but look: Vogelsong got 17 outs, allowed nine base runners and struck out three. Sanchez got 21 outs, allowed seven base runners and struck out eight. Vogelsong threw 60 strikes out of 104 pitches, and Sanchez threw 74 strikes out of 114 pitches.
In other words: If you just watched one pitch after another from Vogelsong and Sanchez, and graded them on quality, nastiness and artistic merit, you would probably call it a wash. You might even give the edge to Sanchez.
The difference between them was subtle, but crucial. Vogelsong's most important pitches were his best. As Giants catcher Buster Posey said, Vogelsong "got in some jams and made some really quality pitches in some tough situations."
Over the course of a season, the pitcher who gets in more jams usually gives up more runs. A single World Series game is different. It can come down to a few key moments. The Giants have owned those moments in this series.
This is having a snowball effect for both teams, which make sense because it felt like winter at Comerica Park. (It was so cold the statues in leftfield ordered hot chocolate.) The Giants are playing with a breezy certainty; as right fielder Hunter Pence said, "It definitely helps the confidence a ton when your starting pitchers, your bullpen and everyone just seems to get the job done."
The Tigers, meanwhile, are grounding into so many double plays that Giants manager Bruce Bochy might want to intentionally walk the first batter of every inning, for efficiency's sake. Prince Fielder has looked so bad at the plate, he was just offered the lead in "A-Rod! The Musical". And he wasn't alone. Left fielder Quintin Berry and Triple Crown king Miguel Cabrera each came to the plate with the bases loaded and failed to knock in a run.
Meanwhile, the Giants manufactured a run the National League way: A Pence walk and stolen base, a wild pitch by Sanchez (the kind of mistake the Giants simply haven't made), a triple, and a single. Then the Tigers made a fielding error (the kind of mistake ... wait, I said that already), and while the Giants failed to score, it didn't matter. They led 2-0 in a game their pitchers were subtly dominating.
If you thought Tim Lincecum (5.18 regular-season ERA) would outpitch Justin Verlander (2.64 regular-season ERA) in this series, then thanks for reading, Tim. I appreciate it. Verlander got shelled in Game 1. Lincecum threw 2 1/3 hitless innings in Game 3.
Posey uttered pretty much the same words about Lincecum ("He is throwing the fastball to both sides of the plate well") and Vogelsong ("He just did a nice job of moving the ball around to both sides of the plate"), and that is no coincidence.
There are a hundred variables that determine a major league pitching performance, but the most important one is this: Locate the fastball well. Do that, and hitters will be off-balance all night. They will have a hard time hitting those fastballs squarely, and curveballs and sliders will be even more effective.
The way the Giants are pitching, Posey might as well put his glove up and close his eyes. Leather will hit leather.
"One guy sees the other guy go out and do a good job, and it probably gives him some confidence when they go out there," Posey said.
If Barry Zito did not pitch so well in Game 5 against the Cardinals, the Giants might not be here. But he did. And the Giants have played nearly flawless baseball since then.
Can the Tigers do what the 2004 Red Sox did against the Yankees, and win four straight after falling behind 3-0? I suppose anything is possible, and if they somehow beat Matt Cain in Game 4, they can give the ball to Verlander in Game 5, and ... well, they would still head to San Francisco trailing three games to two. A potential Tigers miracle is hidden behind two mountains and buried in the sea. You can't see it from here, and I have no idea how they are supposed to find it.
The Giants are on their way, because they made their way. Posey dismissed any suggestion he is calling the right pitches -- "the guy on the mound is the one that's gotta throw the pitch. I just gotta give him the best possibility to succeed" -- and maybe he is right. Instead of extending your fingers in Game 4, Buster, just give Cain a thumbs-up. He'll figure it out.