How Ryan Vogelsong Has Officially Become a Big-Game Pitcher After Huge NLCS

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterOctober 22, 2012

Ryan Vogelsong allowed one run for the third straight playoff game.
Ryan Vogelsong allowed one run for the third straight playoff game.Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With their best starting pitcher on the mound, the San Francisco Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-1, on Sunday (Oct. 21) to push the NLCS to a Game 7. 

But, it wasn't Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner who shut down St. Louis to force a do-or-die seventh game in the series. Ryan Vogelsong was the guy blowing away Cardinals hitters with the Giants' 2012 season on the line. 

Vogelsong racked up a career-high nine strikeouts while holding the Cards to one run and four hits over seven innings. He also walked only one batter, but that's been business as usual for him during the past two seasons with San Francisco.

For the third time during the 2012 MLB playoffs, Vogelsong allowed only one run in a start. He's compiled a 1.42 ERA in his three appearances. During the NLCS, he's been even better, shaving that ERA down to 1.29. 

In Game 2, Vogelsong prevented the Giants from falling behind 0-2 in the series by allowing one run and four hits. He struck out four batters while walking two.

But, the 35-year-old right-hander was even sharper in Game 6 with the aforementioned nine strikeouts and one walk. He also did it while throwing 102 pitches, four fewer than in his prior NLCS start.

As tracked, Vogelsong used a five-pitch arsenal against the Cardinals. And everything—the four-seam and two-seam fastballs, changeup, slider and curveball—were all working. That two-seamer, in particular, had great movement, running in on the Cards' right-handed hitters and dropping out of the strike zone at the last second. 

Vogelsong probably figured he had to be at his best, matched up against Cardinals ace and postseason stud Chris Carpenter.

Little did he know that Carpenter doesn't appear to be the same pitcher after surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome.

But perhaps, we should give credit to the Giants hitters, who batted him around for the second time in this series. (Not helping Carpenter was the Cardinals' defense, whose errors contributed to a total of six unearned runs in his two starts.) 

If the Giants win Game 7 on Monday (Oct. 22) and advance to the World Series, however, they won't have Vogelsong available until Game 3 on his normal rest. Manager Bruce Bochy could pitch Vogelsong in Game 2 on three days' rest, but resorting to such a tactic that early in the series seems unlikely. 

But, if the World Series were to go to a seventh game, Vogelsong would be available on full rest. Would he be matched up against Justin Verlander on three days' rest in that game? 

Vogelsong has been the unexpected savior for the Giants pitching staff. Starting pitching was perceived as the team's strength, but that hasn't quite been the case during the postseason. 

Cain has a 4.67 ERA in three starts. Bumgarner may have lost his spot in the playoff rotation after giving up 10 runs in 15 hits in just eight innings. Tim Lincecum allowed four runs while lasting only 4.2 innings in Game 4 of the NLCS. 

Then there's Barry Zito, who shut up the naysayers and wisecrackers with 7.2 scoreless innings for Game 5 of the series on Friday (Oct. 19). However, he only lasted 2.2 innings in Game 4 of the NLDS versus the Cincinnati Reds

Meanwhile, Vogelsong has allowed one run or less in six consecutive starts going back to the end of the regular season. 

His postseason success is writing the latest chapter in what's been an amazing story of a late bloomer who finally achieved prosperity in baseball after years of struggle and disappointment.

You'd never know it from the way he's pitching now, but if you're not familiar with the story already, Vogelsong was out of the major leagues for four years, from 2007 to 2011. Three of those years were spent pitching in Japan. 

After returning to the U.S. in 2010, Vogelsong pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies' Triple-A team in Lehigh Valley. When it was clear that he wouldn't be called up to the majors, however, he asked for his release.

Following a brief stay in the Los Angeles Angels' organization, Vogelsong signed with the Giants last year and pitched in Triple-A Fresno. He was called up to San Francisco when Barry Zito injured his foot and has become a vital part of the rotation ever since. 

Vogelsong is the sort of story most everyone loves—the guy who wouldn't give up on his dream until all the work finally paid off for him.

He didn't just hold a spot on the major league roster either. Vogelsong went 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA in 28 starts last season. If you watched The Franchise on Showtime last season, one of the most touching moments on the show was when Bochy told Vogelsong (during a rain delay at Comerica Park, interestingly) that he made the All-Star team. 

Even after that performance, very few would have predicted that Vogelsong would be the Giants' best pitcher right now. Thanks to him (and Zito in Game 5), San Francisco has a chance to return to the World Series for the second time in three seasons.

Vogelsong wasn't a part of that World Series championship team in 2010, but if the Giants eventually prevail again, he'll be a key reason for that success.

As he said when featured on The Franchise, "it feels good to be counted on." Vogelsong must be feeling extremely good right now because the Giants are truly counting on him. 

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