San Francisco Giants

Ryan Vogelsong’s return to AT&T Park is ‘amazing’

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Ryan Vogelsong acknowledges cheering fans before pitching against his former team, the San Francisco Giants, in the first inning of a baseball game Monday, Aug. 15, 2016, in San Francisco.
Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Ryan Vogelsong acknowledges cheering fans before pitching against his former team, the San Francisco Giants, in the first inning of a baseball game Monday, Aug. 15, 2016, in San Francisco. The Associated Press

Ryan Vogelsong thought he was prepared. He had known since last offseason, when he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he would likely return to AT&T Park with them Monday night. He recently learned he would start the series opener against the Giants, with whom he resurrected his career and became a World Series champion.

Some of the brightest moments of Vogelsong’s career have been on the mound at Third and King. He won postseason games there and stood near it on the final day of the season last year, telling fans in an emotional speech that regardless of what uniform he wore, he would “always be a Giant.”

But as he walked to the mound in the first inning Monday, and the crowd broke into a round of scattered applause that built into a loud standing ovation, Vogelsong realized something: He was not prepared, not for that.

“I was locked in warming up,” Vogelsong said after earning the win in the Pirates’ 8-5 victory over the Giants. “I was really excited about the way I’d warmed up going into the game.

I appreciate every person that stood up and clapped for me tonight. It was amazing.

Pirates pitcher and former Giant Ryan Vogelsong

“That first inning, man, I wasn’t ready for it, the ovation. It just kind of threw me off a little bit. Awesome, though. Awesome. Those are the kind of moments you wish every guy would get to experience. It was that kind of moment.”

The Pirates let him enjoy it, most remaining in the dugout a few extra seconds while the applause continued. They all know of Vogelsong’s recovery this season from facial fractures suffered when he was hit by a pitch May 23, a frightening play that left Vogelsong wondering if he would be able to see out of his left eye again.

Some may also know of Vogelsong’s journey with the Giants, who drafted him in 1998, brought him back in 2011 and won two World Series titles with him in their rotation. In 2012 and 2014, the Giants won all seven games Vogelsong started in the playoffs. They decided not to bring him back this season after they signed signed Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to fill out their rotation, and Vogelsong signed in December with the Pirates, for whom he pitched in 2001 and from 2003-06.

“Yeah, that was classy,” Vogelsong said of his new teammates’ gesture. “I turned around and I was like, where the heck is everyone at? And then (catcher Francisco Cervelli) walked out (toward the mound), so I couldn’t throw a pitch. And I’m like, come on man, I just want to warm up. I just want to throw a pitch and get this over with.”

A shaken Vogelsong, 39, walked in a run with the bases loaded in the first inning. He allowed 12 baserunners and four runs in 5 2/3 innings, departing with a 5-4 lead that held up for the win and gave him a 2-2 record.

After Vogelsong allowed home runs to Eduardo Nunez and Denard Span in the sixth, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle climbed the dugout steps. Vogelsong motioned with both hands, urging Hurdle not to remove him, but Hurdle kept walking.

That first inning, man, I wasn’t ready for it, the ovation. It just kind of threw me off a little bit.

Pirates pitcher and former Giant Ryan Vogelsong

“His job is to pitch and my job is to manage,” Hurdle said. “I was not going to go back in the dugout. We were going to make a move there. The game was in a good place, he had given it everything he had and it was time to move on.”

Giants fans didn’t seem ready, giving Vogelsong a standing ovation as he left. As Vogelsong reached the dugout, he paused and pointed to the stands, then tipped his cap in several directions.

“Very out of character for me, especially after I just gave up two home runs,” he said. “But like I said, there’s moments in this game where you have to stop and look around every once in a while. That’s not something I’ve done very well leading up to today. … I just felt like I had to. And I appreciate every person that stood up and clapped for me tonight. It was amazing.”

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