SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants lost a game Friday night, 4-1 to the San Diego Padres, but did see next Wednesday’s wild-card scenario round further into shape. Because the Giants lost and the Pirates and Cardinals both won, it’s official the Giants will be on the road Wednesday -- though whether in St. Louis or Pittsburgh is still to be determined.
It’s not the ideal situation for the Giants, who would gladly have taken a home game on Wednesday to avoid the travel and play in front of their own, typically boisterous home fans. But they at least have another element of clarity about the game that they can start to mentally prepare for -- and they have been a good road team for much of the season.
The Giants’ 43-38 road record is third-best in the league behind only the Dodgers and the Washington Nationals, and manager Bruce Bochy said that’s "encouraging" now that the Giants know they’ll need to win one more away from AT&T Park to continue in October.
"That’s something I think we thought may happen," Bochy said. "These guys, I don’t think it’s going to matter to them."
Pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong echoed that sentiment. It’s Bumgarner who will most likely take the mound for the Giants on Wednesday, and the certainty of it being a road game only enhances the idea that the Giants will have the right guy going. In 18 road starts this season Bumgarner went 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA, compared to 7-6 with a 4.03 ERA at home.
"You know what, I don’t really think about it a whole lot," Bumgarner said. "I try to treat all of them the same, no mater where you’re at. So obviously we’d like to do it in front of the fans here, (but) hopefully there’s a few more series to come after that one-game playoff."
With two games remaining, the Cardinals lead the Pirates by one game in the Central. If those teams ended the series with identical records, it could seriously benefit the Giants. They would have to play a one-game playoff to decide the division winner Monday, with the loser heading to the wild-card game. Wanting to avoid the do-or-die wild-card might entice those teams to use a top starter who otherwise would’ve pitched against the Giants.
So there’s still plenty to shake out, though Bumgarner said, "I don’t think anybody (here) is really all that focused on it. We just check and see what happened just to have an idea."
While the Giants still haven’t officially announced their starter for the game, Vogelsong said Friday night, referencing Bumgarner: "With him taking the ball, you’ve got to be pretty excited -- one, that he’s going to give you a good chance to win, and our guys have caught the ball all year. After that, it’s just a matter of trying to scratch out some runs for him, and let him do his thing."
* The Giants could only scratch out one run -- unearned -- for Vogelsong on Friday night, a fitting if dubious result in Vogelsong’s final regular-season start. Vogelsong made 32 starts this season and received one or fewer runs of support 17 times. He finishes with a 4.00 ERA -- actually a tick lower, but it will round up -- but an 8-13 record.
Vogelsong allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in 5 1/3 innings Friday night. He was the victim of some bad luck, in particular two broken-bat hits that drove in runs, and afterward said: "Sometimes you need some breaks to go your way, and I feel like I haven’t gotten a whole lot this year."
Case in point was the sixth, when Vogelsong sawed off Rene Rivera with two runners on and one out in a 2-1 game. Rivera’s bat barrel flew into the stands, but the ball sailed into shallow left-center for a two-run single that knocked Vogelsong out of the game.
Vogelsong afterward blamed himself for setting up the inning -- he missed a location on Jedd Gyorko’s one-out double that started the three-run sixth, then walked Yasmani Grandal before Seth Smith doubled to score Gyorko. Vogelsong was adamant, though, that "fatigue was definitely not a factor."
"I felt great going into the sixth inning," Vogelsong said. "I don’t really have an answer for you other than I just blew it."
Broadening the scope a little, Vogelsong was asked if he took some satisfaction out of his season as a whole. The Giants brought him back this year on a one-year deal despite his making just 19 starts last season (due to a broken hand sustained while hitting), posting a 5.73 ERA and turning 37 midway through this season. His performance in spring training this year wasn’t encouraging, either, as he posted a 9.00 ERA in 19 innings.
His start Friday, though, was Vogelsong’s 32nd of the season. It’s the most of his career in a single season, and it means that the Giants -- who encountered rotation turmoil with the injuries of Matt Cain and struggles of Tim Lincecum -- throughout the year could count on Vogelsong taking the mound each time his turn came up.
"There is some satisfaction in being able to stay on the field and take the ball every fifth day, because there were a lot of questions in the offseason and even spring training … if I was going to be able to," Vogelsong said. "So it’s pretty gratifying to be able to do that.
"But on the other hand, I still didn’t throw the ball the way I wanted to all year."
Now Vogelsong must wait to see if he’ll make another start this year. If so, it obviously would be in the postseason, and the encouraging part for Vogelsong is that he said even with his 184 2/3 regular-season innings, he feels good physically and mechanically.
But there’s also the possibility that Vogelsong made his last start of 2014 on Friday -- and maybe his last start at AT&T Park in a Giants uniform. He will be a free agent again after this season, again facing an uncertain future. Friday night, he said: "I still feel like I’ve got a lot left; I still feel like I can pitch and win in this league." But he acknowledged he had hoped, given the circumstances, for Friday night to play out differently.
"That’s what makes this game tonight even tougher to take -- you never know where you’re going to be when you’re a one-year free agent," Vogelsong said. "I just wanted to end on a good here with possibly my last home game, depending on what happens here in the playoffs.
"I wanted to kind of have a really good one here to finish up, and I just blew it."
* Vogelsong didn’t get a lot of help from a lineup missing Buster Posey, who had the night off to rest his tight back with the wild-card berth already sewn up. The Giants pushed across one run in the second on Brandon Crawford’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly, following a fielding error by Gyorko that loaded the bases with one out, and managed only five hits against Padres right-hander Ian Kennedy and two relievers.
With the incentive of playing for home-field advantage next Wednesday now gone as well, Bochy said he’d have to consider whether to rest some of his regulars in the final two games of this series.
Bochy specifically mentioned Pablo Sandoval, saying, "We still have two days off (between Sunday’s finale and the wild-card game), so you don’t want to give them too much of a break. But at the same time, if they need some rest, they’ll get it."
* Before the game, Bumgarner was named the 2014 winner of the Willie Mac Award, given to the Giants’ most inspirational player as voted on by teammates, coaches, staff and fans. It’s the team’s highest honor, and during a pre-game media conference, some past winners on hand for the presentation said that receiving it was one of the highlights of their playing careers.
"This award is not one that you receive, and then you get home and stick it under your bed or put it in a box, or what have you," said longtime Giants second baseman Robby Thompson. "You put it up on your wall and you display it with a lot of pride."
Bumgarner received the award in an on-field ceremony before first pitch and, after the game, said: "It means a lot just because of the people who voted for it, the people that have won it in the past." He expanded on the significance of being recognized by his peers in the clubhouse:
"That’s what you try to come in and work for, try to be a good representation of the Giants every day," Bumgarner said. "I’m happy to get the recognition for it and know that everybody -- it’s not just being passed up, that everybody notices."
Bumgarner has become the unquestioned ace of the Giants’ rotation this season, posting a career-high 18 wins, striking out more than a batter an inning and setting a San Francisco era record for most strikeouts in a season by a Giants left-hander. He is well-respected for his work ethic and, despite being one of the younger players on the roster, carries himself with a fiery if often quiet competitiveness.
"When the guy takes the ball, there’s that feeling that we’re going to win, and for me as a pitcher, that’s one of the best feelings you can have," Vogelsong said. "I’ve had it here in the past where you can tell when you walk in the room that the guys are excited you’re on the mound that day. And I think that’s the feeling we have when Madison takes the ball.
"He does other things in here that you guys don’t see that show his leadership qualities, and the way he battles, the way he works hard. But for me, the thing that stands out the most is the energy this team has when he takes the mound."
Traditionally, McCovey has been on hand to present the award -- something the Hall of Famer was unable to do Friday after being hospitalized last week due to complications from an infection. Several of McCovey’s family members were there for the pre-game ceremony, and emcee Mike Krukow -- a two-time recipient of the award -- said he had talked with McCovey earlier.
"He said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t be there tonight,’" said Krukow, who said he answered: "Willie, you’re always here."
Bumgarner told the AT&T Park crowd it was "humbling to win an award named after such a great ambassador of the game." He thanked those who voted on the award, along with the past winners for their attendance and his wife, Ali.
"Willie," Bumgarner said, "if you’re watching, I hope you have a speedy recovery, and we all look forward to seeing you at the ballpark soon."
* The Giants are back at the park Saturday afternoon. It’s right-hander Jake Peavy (6-4, 2.20) against Padres left-hander Eric Stults (8-17, 4.42). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.