Itinerant right-hander Ryan Vogelsong took the ball for his San Francisco Giants on Saturday night and, for the fourth time in as many October starts, delivered a postseason gem.
His latest effort—5.2 innings of shutout ball against the vaunted Detroit Tigers offense—puts the Giants within one game of their second World Series title in the last three seasons and brings Vogelsong's postseason pitching line to:
24.2 innings pitched, 1.09 ERA, 21 strikeouts, 10 walks, 3-0 record.
Yes, those numbers are real. And yes, they belong to a man who could cartwheel through the Mall of America wearing a bejeweled name tag and not stop once for an autograph.
For the casual fan, Vogelsong's postseason hero status probably comes as some surprise. Prior to 2011, the Pennsylvania native hadn't donned a major league uniform since 2006 and was the owner of an unsavory 5.86 career ERA.
And while he's become one of baseball's most heralded comeback stories over the two seasons since—a run that includes one All-Star selection and a composite ERA of 3.05—Vogelsong hasn't been a national fixture on the scale of the New York Mets' knuckleballer/memoirst R.A. Dickey, his big-market buddy in the pantheon of remarkable career turnarounds.
Should form hold for both Vogelsong and his team, that might change.
Vogelsong's flared nostrils—arched at that perfect angle of perpetual intensity—and hard-bearing fastball have become hallmarks of San Francisco's postseason success, autumnal talismans you might say for a team that has won six consecutive elimination games (two of them pitched by Vogelsong).
Meanwhile, his pitching line has folks in the Bay Area comparing the 35-year-old's October run to the one current staff ace Matt Cain put together during San Francisco's 2010 World Series campaign.
That year, Cain made three postseason starts and didn't allow a single earned run.
21.1 innings pitched, 0.00 ERA, 13 strikeouts, 7 walks, 2-0 record.
So, which Giants righty had the better October roar?
I suppose in an apples-to-apples comparison of statistics, you'd have to take Cain. Neither pitcher had an eye-popping SO:BB ratio, and "zero earned runs" is hard to counter.
But if you're asking me which pitcher had the more impressive postseason, I'm on Team Vogelsong—and for reasons I think should be pretty damn obvious.
I mean who was Ryan Vogelsong before this October?
He was a good story, sure. No one's scoffing at a former flameout becoming an All-Star in his mid-30s with the franchise that drafted him more than a decade earlier.
But Vogelsong's resurgence wasn't as convincing or logical as, say, Dickey's. He hadn't completely reinvented himself as a pitcher to the point where you could say, "Aha, there, that's what's changed about Ryan Vogelsong. That's why he's good now and he blew chunks before."
And without a tangible edifice of change to grip, one couldn't help but feel like Vogelsong was an ankle tweak away from returning to dirt. It's not like Vogelsong's peripherals were so mind-blowing that you had to accept his permanence as an above-average big league pitcher, or that your sub-conscience wasn't always revisiting the sentiment that he had no business being this good at this juncture in his career.
Be honest here, who among you didn't look at Vogelsong's 5.85 ERA over the last two months of the 2012 season and think, even for a second, that the fairy tale was ending?
That's what makes Vogelsong's postseason heroics so remarkable. At a moment when it seemed like the facade was collapsing in on him—and in a month where the magnitude of the games tends to vaporize players of low pedigree or dubious achievement—Vogelsong rose even higher.
That subtext not only elevates Vogelsong's 2012 above Cain's 2010, but in my mind it puts what Vogelsong has done this postseason in the conversation for best October performance of the 21st century.
OK, let's say most surprising. Or most enlightening. Or most narrative-inducing.
Put it this way:
We could roll out a long list of superlatives to describe the 2012 Ryan Vogelsong Postseason Experience, and I doubt Giants fans would take issue with a single one.