As soon as Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera fouled off a cut fastball to run the count full in his seventh-inning at-bat, Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong said he knew he wanted to go right back to the cutter on the outside corner. His conviction was reaffirmed when catcher Buster Posey called for that pitch.
“I said to myself, ‘Make this pitch right here,’ ” Vogelsong said. “I wanted it, he wanted it, make this pitch.”
Vogelsong made it and Cabrera swung through it for the final out of the inning. And as he turned toward the Giants’ dugout, having completed seven scoreless innings while allowing two hits and striking out six, the normally stoic Vogelsong allowed himself a subtle pump of the right fist.
“That’s about as much as you’re going to get out of me,” he said.
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The gesture was more about executing that particular cutter than about his overall outing, Vogelsong said. Cabrera was his final hitter and he left with a 1-0 lead, though he did not factor into the decision in a game the Giants won 4-1 on second baseman Brandon Hicks’ three-run walk-off home run in the ninth inning.
Still, the 104-pitch performance was a significant one for Vogelsong, who was coming off his shortest start as a Giant last Monday in Colorado – one in which he faced 13 hitters, retired four of them and gave up five runs. He described it as “embarrassing.”
Sunday afternoon, with the Giants trying for a sweep and against a Cleveland lineup that included eight left-handed hitters, Vogelsong allowed two singles to leadoff man Michael Bourn – the second a broken-bat hit – and two walks, retiring the final 12 batters he faced. This despite the fact he worked from behind in counts much of the game, throwing first-pitch strikes to just four of 18 hitters his first two turns through the order.
After his last outing, Vogelsong said he watched video and “saw a pretty major flaw” in his mechanics that involved his legs during his delivery. He threw his bullpen session on the Giants’ final day in Colorado, and “it was pretty glaring that that was the issue.”
Bourn led off Sunday’s game with a single and Jason Kipnis walked to give the Indians two on with one out for cleanup hitter Carlos Santana, who lifted a fly ball to deep right field. Hunter Pence, though, caught it near the warning track and Vogelsong got Michael Brantley to ground out to end the inning.
“I didn’t feel like I was in a whole lot of trouble there yet,” Vogelsong said. “After the last (start), it definitely sneaks into the back of your mind, ‘Not again,’ you know? But you just try and focus your energy on making a good pitch.”
Only two men reached against Vogelsong after that. Bourn singled in the third but was promptly erased on a highlight-reel double play turned by Hicks and shortstop Brandon Crawford. Kipnis led off the fourth with a walk and was stranded at first. After entering the game with left-handers hitting .389 against him this season, Vogelsong held them to a 2-for-20 mark Sunday.
It was the first time in a Giants uniform that Vogelsong has pitched seven shutout innings with at least six strikeouts. He said, though, he was “not going to get overly excited about one good start after a really bad one.
“At this point in time I’ve been back and forth,” he said. “It’s time to start throwing some consistent starts up there. I’ll start getting excited about things if I can do that.”
His shot at a win vanished when Yan Gomes led off the eighth inning with a homer off Santiago Casilla, only the third earned run the Giants’ bullpen has allowed at AT&T Park in 2014. But the Giants secured their sweep when Hicks turned on a 96-mph fastball from Cody Allen after the Indians had walked Crawford intentionally to pitch to Hicks with two outs in the ninth.
Vogelsong had already departed to a standing ovation from the announced sellout crowd – “That never gets old,” he said – and was in the clubhouse when Hicks hit the second walk-off homer of his career (the other came July 18, 2012, against Texas when Hicks played for the A’s).
“I was sitting right here,” Vogelsong said, indicating his locker. “That never gets old, either.”