What we are seeing, more than anything, is an organizational triumph. A triumph of sacrifice, unselfishness and resiliency. Of relationships. Of people.
Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Gregor Blanco come from different ends of the baseball earth. But together, they brought the Giants within one victory of their second World Series title in three years on Saturday night, playing central roles in a 2-0 victory over the Tigers.
Vogelsong and Blanco weren’t members of the 2010 team. Lincecum was, but in a different, more prominent role. If the Giants, leading three games to none, finish the Tigers, other clubs will be wise to take note of San Francisco’s one-for-all, all-for-one organizational ethic. It defines everything the Giants do, and is the backbone of their success.
Three players. Three stories. Three triumphs.
Vogelsong nearly signed with the Dodgers.
This was in January 2011, when the right-hander was planning one last shot at returning to the majors. He had pitched in Japan from 2007 to ’09. He had been let go by both the Phillies and Angels in ‘10 while at Triple A. He then went to Venezuela to play winter ball, desperate to prove that he could still pitch at age 33.
Ned Colletti, the Dodgers general manager — and former Giants assistant GM — was familiar to Vogelsong. But the Giants were Vogelsong’s original team, the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 1998, then traded him to the Pirates in July 2001. Such is the stability of the franchise that even 10 years later, many of Vogelsong’s old ties to the club remained.
GM Brian Sabean. Bench coach Ron Wotus. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner. And especially pitching coach Dave Righetti.
“I wanted to be back here,” Vogelsong said. “Rags (Righetti) and I had stayed in touch the whole time after I left here. He’s not a pitching coach to me. He’s a buddy.
“Obviously, I knew Sabes was still here, Wotus was here. I played with Gardy. I didn’t come here because I thought I was going to get special treatment. It was more comfort and being able to come to spring training with people who knew me instead of going somewhere else where I had to show who I was.
“That, and honestly, it’s crazy to think this way, but I started here. And I was like, ‘If this is really the end, and I’m not going to play ever again, then I want to end here.’”
Only his career didn’t end. Instead, it was reborn.
Vogelsong made the All-Star team in 2011, signed a two-year, $8.3 million contract and this postseason became the Giants’ best starting pitcher, ahead of even Matt Cain.
By working 5-2/3 scoreless innings Saturday night, Vogelsong joined Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson as the only pitchers to start their postseason careers with four consecutive starts of five or more innings and one run or fewer allowed.
The presence of Vogelsong’s father, Harold, only added to the poignancy of the evening. About three months ago, Harold learned that he was suffering from prostate cancer. He is scheduled to undergo surgery Nov. 7.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” Harold said. “The morning of the 7th, I’ll be like Ryan and get my game face on. I’ll get in the zone.”
With such an approach, how could Harold lose?
Gregor Blanco nearly signed with the Marlins.
This was mid-November 2011. Blanco was in demand as a minor league free agent, on his way to becoming MVP of the Venezuelan winter league.
Hensley Meulens, the Giants’ hitting coach, was serving in the same capacity for the Bravos de Margarita in Venezuela. Blanco was playing for the Tiburones de la Guaira — Ozzie Guillen’s old team.
Guillen had just taken over as manager of the Marlins, and the fit seemed natural for Blanco, a fellow Venezuelan. But Brian Johnson, a Giants scout (and the team’s lead advance scout on the Tigers this postseason) had liked Blanco at Triple A. Meulens, too, was intrigued — intrigued by Blanco’s speed, ability to work a count and on-base skills.
“The day I talked to him, he was about to sign with the Marlins the next day — I guess, because of his relationship with Ozzie,” Meulens said.
“I called him and said, ‘Hey, we can use you in San Francisco. We probably have an open spot for the fourth outfielder. He said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah, think about it. We’ll give you a better chance than the Marlins will — a better chance to make the team and be on the big-league club.’
“The next day, he signed with us.”
Blanco, 28, said he was “close, really close” to joining the Marlins. But he thought the Giants offered him a better chance to win, made the team out of spring training and performed well early in the season.
A subsequent slump helped lead to the Giants’ trade for right fielder Hunter Pence on July 31, but Blanco regained playing time after left fielder Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games for violating baseball’s drug policy Aug. 15.
Now here Blanco is, one of the Giants’ most valuable players in the Series, providing wondrous defense in left field, delivering a pivotal bunt single in Game 2, drilling an RBI triple to provide a 1-0 lead in Game 3.
Good thing Meulens talked him into joining the team.
“We knew he could be an asset,” Meulens said. “This was the first time in his career, I think, that he played some and had really good success on a winning team. He took advantage of the opportunity he was given here.”
And Melky is barely missed.
Lincecum struggled throughout the regular season, finishing with a 5.18 ERA, the fourth-worst in the majors among starters who threw at least 162 innings.
He had won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2008 and ’09, starred during the Giants’ championship run in ’10. But in one of those crazy baseball twists, he failed to beat out Barry Zito — who didn’t make any of the Giants’ postseason rosters in ’10 — for the final spot in the team’s playoff rotation.
Did Lincecum pout? Seethe? Lash out publicly at the injustice of it all?
Not even close.
“Timmy’s not built that way,” Righetti told a small group of reporters Saturday night. “I know you guys don’t know him. A lot of guys don’t. He doesn’t do a lot of opening up. But the one thing he loves is a challenge. He thinks he can do things.
“For a pitcher, there are only so many things you can do. Doing something like this in the playoffs … it gets him up, fires him up. If he can’t make a big start, he’d rather do something like this.”
Righetti and manager Bruce Bochy barely had to sell Lincecum on the change.
“Right away, he said, ‘I’m all-in on this. I’m going to do whatever helps this club move on,’” Bochy said. “He had that attitude from the get-go. And I think that’s why he has done so well. He has relished the role.”
Relished it and excelled in it, throwing 2-1/3 scoreless innings of relief for the second time in the Series on Saturday night. Lincecum’s overall numbers out of the bullpen in the postseason — three hits, two walks and 17 strikeouts in 13 innings — are nothing short of spectacular.
Bochy assured reporters in his postgame news conference that Lincecum would return to the Giants’ rotation next season—– return as a $22 million starter in his free agent year.
But for now, Lincecum is where he belongs.
“It didn’t really feel confusing at all,” Lincecum said of his change in roles. “I was kind of expecting it, not necessarily thinking of it as a demotion but another role where I could just do something good for the team. That’s all I was looking to do.”
Sabean said, “We preach being a teammate — he’s showing that.” Righetti added that Vogelsong and Cain would have done the same thing. But Lincecum, well, Lincecum is different. Bochy calls him “a weapon,” Righetti “a friggin’ wild card.”
Lincecum, like all the Giants, would prefer to be called something else, something that is as simple as it is beautiful, something that tells you everything you need to know about this organization’s ethic.