SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) — Ryan Vogelsong stood on the cut grass at AT&T Park in his crisp San Francisco Giants uniform, giving an interview for Japanese broadcaster NHK in English. No need for an interpreter.
The backdrop on the scoreboard said it all: World Series.
Halfway around the world and back, Vogelsong’s journey is ready to go global. The resilient right-hander will start Game 3 in Detroit opposite Anibal Sanchez on Saturday night looking to move the Giants to the brink of another championship and cap a comeback that has become more improbable each time out.
“A lot of faith. A lot of hard work,” said Vogelsong, who will take the mound with San Francisco ahead 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. “You also have to have some things go your way to get opportunities.”
For so many years, they so often didn’t.
“I feel like every day I come in here with a little chip on my shoulder that I need to work harder than the next guy, and try and get myself better on a daily basis,” Vogelsong said. “Definitely game day, there’s a chip there. I feel like I still have a lot to prove in this game.”
Vogelsong was drafted in the fifth round by the Giants in 1998 and became the primary piece of a trade to get future ace Jason Schmidt from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001. The promising prospect later underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery, failed in the big leagues, bounced out of the minors, had mixed results in Japan, then struggled with the Phillies’ and Angels’ minor-league affiliates and at age 33 figured his career might be over.
One last chance came a year ago from the most unlikely team: the defending World Series champion Giants.
Vogelsong, now 35, didn’t make the club out of spring training. He went back to riding buses and staying in motels for Triple-A Fresno, not an easy decision with his wife, Nicole, and son, Ryder, then 20 months old, left to share the burden.
While Vogelsong was sitting in the stands at a game in Las Vegas charting pitches between starts, his manager asked for his cellphone number. Barry Zito had been placed on the disabled list with a sprained right foot and the Giants were looking for a replacement.
Sure enough, just before Vogelsong boarded the bus, his phone rang. Giants vice president Bobby Evans was on the other end with news that set Vogelsong on a path to this World Series: he was heading back to the big leagues to make a fill-in start for San Francisco against—who else? — the Pirates.
He held the Pirates to four hits and two runs in 5 2-3 innings for his first major league victory in almost five years.
“I just believe that God had a plan for me this whole time,” Vogelsong said. “I feel like all the stuff that I went through— going to Japan and going to winter ball at 33 years old, and getting back here last year, is stuff that He was doing for me to get me prepared for this moment.”
Now Vogelsong is living in one of America’s most scenic cities amid a reshaped reality.
No more eating fish guts as he did to bond with Japanese teammates. Instead, he’s spraying sparkling wine from Napa Valley with the rest of his Giants teammates after every series victory.
The minors are long behind him, and so is the silence at the end of some starts in Japan. The San Francisco sunsets have held some of his most shining moments, with fans chanting “Vogey! Vogey!” louder than they ever had in his Game 6 victory in the NL championship series against St. Louis starting in the California twilight.
“He pitches with conviction,” reliever Jeremy Affeldt said.
Vogelsong earned All-Star honors last season and was the NL ERA leader as late as Aug. 12 at 2.27 this year. His last 10 regular-season starts lifted that figure to 3.37, but just like Vogelsong had so many times before, he rallied.
Vogelsong became the first Giants starter to complete at least six innings this postseason when he allowed four hits over seven innings in a 7-1 victory in Game 2 of the NL championship series against St. Louis. Then he struck out a career-best nine on his biggest stage yet, allowing only four hits and one run in San Francisco’s 6-1 win in Game 6.
“He’s throwing the ball as well as anybody on the staff,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who had no problem putting Vogelsong in line for a Game 7 start.
With San Francisco winning 8-3 and 2-0 in the first two games, Vogelsong has a chance to help end the series far sooner.
He earned himself a shot to be the latest Giants pitcher to shut down Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, slugger Prince Fielder and the hard-hitting Tigers.
“It’s great to be here with everything I’ve been through, but I’ve got to pitch my next game,” Vogelsong said. “The two starts before really mean nothing right now. It’s about pitching the game on Saturday.”
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