[Game recap: Greinke was Greinke, Bum was Bum, Goldy was Goldy, Craw was Craw (with the glove), and the Giants’ offense was offensive. They’ve now won one game in the last week, and that was played in the middle of the night and I didn’t see any of it. Here’s the box if you really must.]
Ryan Vogelsong Day
by Dr Lefty
It was 2011. Ever since that awful night in late May when Buster Posey went down–his season over, his career perhaps in jeopardy, the Giants’ hopes of defending their title writhing on the ground in pain next to their star catcher–there was a sadness that wouldn’t go away. The season didn’t end; in fact, the Giants held onto first place in the NL West until early August. But the sense of impending doom, the feeling of loss, was always there.
Into that sadness came Ryan Vogelsong.
Vogelsong returned to the Giants, the team that had drafted him, before the 2011 season. His long and winding road after leaving the Giants in a 2001 trade to Pittsburgh for Jason Schmidt has been well chronicled, most notably in the 2011 Showtime series, The Franchise, which featured extensive interviews with Ryan and his beautiful, steadfast wife, Nicole. He soon joined the big club after Barry Zito went down with an ankle injury in April. Vogey’s first big moment after returning was Mother’s Day of that year: 6.1 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs–and a standing ovation as he left the mound. After Vogey ran off great start after great start, Bruce Bochy named him to the 2011 National League All-Star team, a moment he could never have dreamed of in all those years of minor league bus rides and stints playing abroad.
Ryan Vogelsong, the consummate journeyman, finished that otherwise dreary season 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA, fourth-best in the National League, and he received Cy Young votes. He was honored by his teammates and coaches at the end of that season by being named the 2011 Willie Mac Award winner.
It was a dream come true for the Vogelsongs and it was a much-needed shot of inspiration for a disheartened team and fanbase. But the story wasn’t over, not by a longshot.
It was 2012. The Giants overcame their share of adversity–the loss of closer Brian Wilson to Tommy John surgery, the non-appearance of expected second baseman Freddy Sanchez, the shocking PEDs bust of star left fielder Melky Cabrera, then leading the league in hitting, in mid-August–and won the NL West by eight games, winning 94 regular season games. But no one believed in them. In a memorable article right before the playoffs started, the writer ranked the Giants tenth out of ten playoff teams in terms of their chances to win it all. And after two games of the NLDS, it looked like the skepticism was spot-on; the Giants lost the first two games at home and headed to Cincinnati, where they would have to win three straight elimination games to stay alive. It looked like the end of the road for this gritty, likable team that had already been through so much.
Into that moment of despair walked Ryan Vogelsong.
Yes, Ryan Vogelsong. Before there could be a #RallyZito game in St. Louis, before Cain would outduel Mat Latos, Kyle Lohse, and Max Scherzer in series clinchers, there was Game 3 of the NLDS in Cincinnati, the one the Giants had to win to stay alive. It was also Vogelsong’s first-ever playoff start. I remember hoping before that game that he’d at least have a great and memorable experience, as it was highly likely to be his only postseason game in 2012. The Giants faced an almost-unhittable Homer Bailey that day, managed just one hit off Bailey and struck out 15 times in that game. But Vogelsong matched Bailey inning for inning, and somehow, the Giants won that game 2-1 in extra innings and lived to see another day.
It was not his only elimination game start. Vogelsong pitched unquestionably the game of his life–just as Zito had in Game 5–in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, the fifth of six elimination games the Giants would play and win that year. Seven innings, one run, a career-high nine strikeouts–and a delirious crowd chanting Vo-gey, Vo-gey, Vogey! as he exited after the seventh, the game safely in hand. The next week, Vogey made his first World Series start in Game 3 in Detroit, memorably getting Triple-Crown winner and AL MVP Miguel Cabrera to pop up with the bases loaded in the fifth inning with the Giants clinging to a slim 2-0 lead.
Cain with the clinchers, Zito the unlikely hero, young Madison Bumgarner somehow finding his mechanics just in time to pitch eight shutout innings in Game 2 of the World Series. Did you even remember that Vogey was there? You should: He was the Giants’ best pitcher, going 3-0 in four postseason starts with a ridiculous 1.00 ERA. Adding his three starts in the 2014 postseason, the Giants never lost a playoff game started by Ryan Vogelsong. After the Giants finished up their stunning sweep of the Tigers in Detroit, Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group wrote a beautiful piece commemorating the World Series win “told in one man’s face” and shared his amazing photo of Vogelsong, holding up that trophy with tears streaming down his face.
There were a few more twists and turns, ups and downs, left for Ryan Vogelsong after 2012. Team USA member in the WBC in 2013, a broken hand that cost him three months of that season. Another championship, another parade in 2014. His emotional farewell to the Giants fans on the last day of the 2015 season, where he unforgettably said: “I will always, always be a Giant.” He signed with Pittsburgh, the team to which the Giants had traded him in 2001, and sustained a horrible injury when hit in the eye by a pitch early in the 2016 season, one that not only seemed career-ending but which could also have threatened his sight. But he fought through that, making a return to San Francisco to a hero’s welcome–and beating his beloved Giants, as the fans cheered him nonetheless.
It is 2017. The Giants are limping, stumbling, crawling through what looks to be the worst season in franchise history. They are not ending it well. They barely mustered a quorum at AT & T Park for Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda’s 80th birthday celebration last night. There is disappointment about the 2016 season that slipped away, bewilderment about the massive freefall of the 2017 team, and fear bordering on resentment about what the future holds.
Into this dark moment, again, comes Ryan Vogelsong.
Today, he officially ends his long and winding road in the place he never really wanted to leave. They will show videos of his great moments, the fans will cheer, Nicole will wipe away happy tears, young Ryder, not a baby anymore, will smile–and we will remember.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed that I always end my Sunday morning posts with “Lefty out.” It’s because of him. Do you remember? That quirky moment at the 2014 championship parade where he grabbed the mic and told an insider story, finishing it with “Vogey out!”
I apologize for such a lengthy and sentimental post. Nah. Not really. Just scroll down if you don’t like it. Vogey out–and Lefty out.