© 2012 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Well, see, this looked familiar. Even if the man on the mound was an unfamiliar face. Even if that seven on the scoreboard was a rather unfamiliar figure.
You had to squint a bit, but this looked like 2010, when the Giants used the so-basic-it's-brilliant blueprint of quality starts to bring this city its first World Series title.
Ryan Vogelsong wasn't around then. He spent the majority of 2010 pitching for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. But here in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals on Monday night, he summoned the spirit of that awesome October by turning in seven outstanding innings, walking off to the chants of "Vo-gey! Vo-gey!" belted out by the bulk of the 42,679 in attendance for the Giants' 7-1 victory at AT&T Park.
"It feels good," Vogelsong said afterward. "You can start a trend with something like this."
Yes, you can. Or you can merely repeat a formula followed the first time around.
The Giants entered October knowing their offense is deeper, more multidimensional, more capable of the big inning than the one that went all the way two years ago. But they weren't as certain their rotation would come up as clutch as it once did. Tim Lincecum went backward this season, and Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner had a somewhat suspect September showing. Barry Zito was back in the limelight, and no one quite knew if this was a good thing.
First-round survival against the Reds came not so much as a product of the starters' showing, but because the Giants were opportunistic on offense, efficient on defense and reliable in relief. The historic erase of an 0-2 deficit with three wins on the road had the effect of overshadowing the rather unsettling reality that no Giants starter had managed to make it through six innings.
But when the Giants lost Game 1 of this NLCS, with Bumgarner unable to limit or hold the baserunners surrounding him in a 3 2/3-inning disaster, alarms went off.
"We needed innings," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said succinctly.
Vogelsong delivered seven of them, and it was sweet relief to the relievers, and to manager Bruce Bochy.
"He got us deep in the game and got us a quality start, which we needed sorely," Bochy said. "It's just nice to have him on track throwing the ball the way he is. When he's on top of his game, he's tough."
In the aftermath of this series-evening win, the Giants were also talking about the toughness of Marco Scutaro, the victim of Matt Holliday's overly aggressive slide into second base in the first inning. Scutaro stayed in the game to deliver a big hit in the fourth before leaving with a hip injury, and the hit he took from Holliday seemed to liven up the Giants' dugout.
Make no mistake, though. As much as that play might have set an emotional tone for this triumph, it was Vogelsong who kept the momentum in motion, one uneventful inning after another. He was shaky in the second, giving up an RBI double to Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, of all people.
But when he settled in, locating his fastball on both sides of the plate and befuddling a Cards offense that had been scoring more than six runs a game this postseason, he was all but untouchable. Vogelsong threw 106 pitches, 69 for strikes. The Cards have an unrelenting lineup, but Vogelsong wasn't afraid to challenge them inside and didn't allow himself to get beat over the plate.
"He went out there, got ahead of hitters, threw a lot of first-pitch strikes," the Cardinals' Jon Jay said. "He wasn't in many hitters' counts. I don't even know if he got to many two- or three-ball counts."
And a Giants team that got 11 quality starts in 15 postseason games in 2010 finally got its first of '12, with Vogelsong allowing just a run on four hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
"We've obviously had some rough outings here to start this postseason," Vogelsong said. "It was something that I really didn't think about going into the game, because there's enough pressure and thoughts going through your mind other than thinking about trying to make it past the sixth inning. It's something you really don't need to add to your plate."
No, but Vogelsong has now removed that topic of conversation from the table, shifting the focus instead to a Cards club that has been equally ineffective in getting quality innings out of its starting staff.
It's too soon to know if this was a series-shifter, but you could certainly see a scenario in which Matt Cain carries the torch. The statistics might refute the existence of momentum, but ballplayers buy into it. When at their best, rotations are an alignment of competitive individuals who try to top each other, all for the greater good. Apply that attitude to October, and it can take you a long way -- a fact the Giants know quite well from past experience.
Vogelsong wasn't along for that ride. But the 2012 NLCS is evened up and started anew because he went back to that basic blueprint. It all felt so familiar.
"That's about what it looked like in 2010," Aubrey Huff said. "Except back then, it would have been 2-1."