Total Pageviews

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Vogelsong's glitzy branding statement, Ross' epic at bat

It could be that this is the weekend that the Giants can look back on as the unofficial start to their World Title defense: a sweep of first-place Colorado for a six-game swing.

If the Rockies had swept the Giants, they could have created some serious distance at the top -- seven games -- and created a whole lot of angst in Giant Land. Instead, the Giants shrunk Colorado's lead to one game, sending a signal to the Rockies -- and the rest of the West -- that they are not to be trifled with.

Just a reminder of how capricious this game is: after a 3-8 stretch, in which the Giants hit .200 and the panic button was screaming to be pushed, the Giants have won five of the last six and have rediscovered the joys of clutch hitting and shutdown pitching.

They've done it with a cut and paste lineup with a supposedly washed-up, overpaid outfielder sparking the top of the lineup, a 5-foot-8 inch 160 pound backup infielder filling the power third slot, despite the continued struggles by a veteran shortstop-turned third baseman-bench-warmer-in-waiting, and Boss Bochy's continuing juggling act with the corner outfield slots.

The de rigour de jour hero for Sunday was Cody Ross, who had a walk, a fourth-inning RBI single and sixth-inning two-run HR to seal the deal. Only a few days ago, Ross had appeared to be sliding down the outfield depth chart with his bewildering post-calf injury performance.

His home run came on a full-count 94 MPH payoff fastball in an epic nine-pitch battle, after fighting off nasty Jorge De La Rosa slider after nasty slider. Telecasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper noted ahead of time that Ross was looking better with each swing.

Krukow: "He's putting together some good swings as he's climbing out of his slump, his average starting to get higher every day."

By the way: he did it with high black socks, so the low-pants look Ross had sported for the last several days is likely a thing of the past, though it is also as likely he won't return to the bearded look that he abandoned at the bottom of his frustrations.

Who knows. Maybe he'll stick with the pink bat.


Ryan Vogelsong, et al, made it stand up.

Vogelsong's outing was a glitzy Madison Avenue branding statement announcing his intention to stick with the Giants, even as the high-priced Barry Zito prepares for his return. 

Vogelsong had a live fastball: from the opening pitch at 93 MPH, it had great movement and had last-second hop to it, not to mention pin-point control. But his off-speed stuff was on, too. His 2-2 changeup to Seth Smith to end the second was a thing of beauty, as was his hard-breaking curve to strike out De La Rosa to end the third. And it's always nice to have an umpire working in concert: James Joyce was generous, though to both sides.

His performance in the fifth, when his perfect game was still in play, was stellar. 

-- A textbook sequence to Troy Tulowitzki: a drop dead 12-to-6 curve to steal the first strike, a fastball in on his hands for a foul, a cutter outside, then another curve to get a weak ground out; 

-- After falling behind 3-and-0 to the still unnaturally oversized Jason Giambi, he came back to run the count full before coaxing a long fly out to center; 

-- And a 10-pitch duel on which he outlasted Smith (curve, fouled; curve up and in; slider low; a swing-through on a beauty of a changeup; fastball that missed just inside; fastball away fouled off; another fastball high and outside fouled off; a third straight fastball, at 91 MPH, fouled off, then a 93 MPH fastball pulled foul; and finally, a full-county payoff 83 MPH changeup that Smith rolled over to second).

In his at bat in the bottom of the fifth, Vogelsong appeared to tweak his back on a swing; he could be seen stretching his back in the dugout after his at bat. So, it wasn't a surprise that his streak of 15 straight outs ended with Chris Iannetta's leadoff single in the top of the sixth, a line drive up the middle on an 88 MPH fastball in what Krukow called "t-ball location."

"And you wonder if that tweak to his back that he had in his at bat is bothering him now," Krukow said. 

Next pitch, a "middle-in, thigh high, right to his wheelhouse swing": Ian Stewart crushed one that Ross caught banging against the AT&T wall (I cringe while giving AT&T free advertising by mentioning it), the loudest out off Vogelsong. But, he was able to survive the inning when he got De La Rosa on a sacrifice bunt and then blew a shoulder-high 91 MPH past Fowler.

Only an error by Mike Fontenot on what should have been an inning-ending double play kept him from a full seven inning stint. No matter. Javier Lopez closed out the first-and-second one out threat -- the Rockies' last stand -- by inducing a 3-6-1 double play.


Did it seem like more women got foul balls Sunday, Mother's Day?


Defensive Play of game: Freddie Sanchez, in the first inning, ranging to his backhand side to the shortstop side of the infield, throwing across his body to retire Tulowitzki for a "big league hang with 'em," as Krukow puts it.

Ross' basket catch in foul territory on the run from left field, fighting the sun, wind and bullpen mound ranked high for difficulty.

And Tejada's grab of Jonathan Herrerra's opposite field bullet at third in the fourth may have seemed automatic because it was right at him, but it took the reflexes of a true pro to make that catch right at his face. It would have killed you and me if we tried it.


Burrell showed his reflexes are still working, blasting a live De La Rosa 93-MPH fastball for his double to the gap in left-center ahead of Ross's RBI single.

Here's how impressive Ross's single was in the fourth: he was hitting .213 with only 1 RBI for the season, while De La Rosa had kept opponents to a .122 batting (5 hits in 41 at bats) average with runners in scoring position, .197 overall (third best in the N.L.). Ross, at .195 only four days ago, is now up to .240 after going 4-for-his-last-9.

By the way, third base coach Tim Flannery gambled and won on in sending Burrell home on Ross' base hit, a bullet to left field. It paid off when a) Burrell got a good jump and B) Carlos Gonzales' throw to the plate went way wide. Burrell's read off the bat, no hesitation on the line drive, made Flannery's decision easier.


Still, signs that the Giants offense isn't fully clicking, and that there are always things to improve on:

-- In the bottom of the first, the Giants got three walks but failed to score. After the first two got on by way of the free pass and No. 3 hitter Fontenot got ahead on a 2-0 count, the threat was erased on a double play ground out; then, after Posey walked, a strikeout.

-- In the bottom of the third, the Giants stranded Vogelsong at second after his leadoff double when Aaron Rowand struck out, Sanchez was robbed on a diving play by Giambi (did I mention he's still questionably bulked up?), and Fontenot broke his bat on a weak groundout.

-- In the bottom of the fourth, Ross, on second with one out on Gonzales' throw to home, was stranded after Tejada popped out and Eli Whiteside flied out.

-- after two outs in the seventh, a two-out rally -- Rowand reaching on a HBP and racing to third on  Sanchez' blistering single to left (there's that 1-2 punch again) -- went by the wayside when Rowand was thrown out in a double-steal attempt at the plate.


Pretty prescient: Kuiper, in the bottom of the first:

"4-3 win on Friday, a 3-2 win yesterday. A laugher for the Giants would be to win by, what, three runs?"


  1. thanks, John! check out my other blog posts if you have time, and stay in touch during the season!