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Game 6 NLCS, Giants 6, Cards 1: The Art of Fastball

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If you invite Ryan Vogelsong over for Thanksgiving dinner, coat the turkey in paprika, roast it twenty minutes for every pound, and when it's ready, hand Vogey a knife. He knows a thing or two about carving up red birds.

For the second straight start, Vogelsong put on a clinic, painted a masterpiece, and wielded his fastball like a samurai scalpel. It was the best art of fastball I've seen since, well, Homer Bailey in the Division Series against the Giants. But Bailey was more of a power show. Here it comes, hit it, and the Giants couldn't.

Vogelsong was geeked up to 93, 94-MPH in the first few innings, then settled into the 90-91 range mainly as he started mixing off-speed stuff. He threw 13 straight fastballs to start the game, then on the 14th pitch threw a beautiful change-up to strike out Carlos Beltran. He struck out the side and continued the mastery all night, shifting gears the second time through the order with a lot more breaking stuff. After 39 fastballs in 44 pitches through three innings, he threw 14 pitches in the fourth, nine of them off-speed. A pitch by pitch log is here, and here's a chart of the first inning, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:



He used every corner of the strike zone except upper left, which would be up and away to three of the four lefties he faced. And you can be sure that nearly every location you see here, including the pitches just outside the zone, were on purpose.

Remember the Vogelsong of late August and September who had his velocity and stuff but couldn't seem to get important pitches past hitters? In a few games, pests like Evereth Cabrera kept fouling off pitch after pitch, driving up Vogelsong's pitch count and more often than not, winning battles with walks and hits. That Vogelsong is no more.

When the Giants have won in these playoffs, an opponent's mistake is usually a key part of the mix. It was again tonight. Make it two: Cardinal 3B David Freese couldn't get a grip on Buster Posey's chopper in the first and had to throw to first instead of throwing to home to nail Marco Scutaro. (Scutaro would have been out by plenty.) Next inning, Vogelsong made weak contact with a butcher-boy -- fake the bunt, pull back and swing -- a great call by Bruce Bochy, by the way. The fake bunt got the Cardinal infielders rotating, as did Brandon Crawford breaking from first base, and shortstop Kozma was just flummoxed enough to bobble Vogey's grounder past the mound. Brandon Belt would have scored no matter, but Kozma couldn't get the out at first, and it opened the door for Scutaro's two-run double with two outs. That hit turned out to be the back breaker.

Friday night's victory was fueled by Lance Lynn's bad throw to second; back in Game 2, Chris Carpenter made a poor throw to first that helped the Giants build their big rally. As I've written earlier, highlighting these mistakes doesn't diminish the Giants' work. If anything, it shows how opportune they've been, capitalizing time and again. They've also played the Cards to a draw without the services of Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, more or less. Both looked like they'd hit rock-bottom tonight. With Pence, it's more like he's been bumping along the sea floor for some time. Buster, however, seemed for the first time flummoxed in every at-bat. I wonder if the year has finally caught up with him. If the Giants make the Series, it'll be interesting to see how Bochy uses the DH.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, of course. I was already accused on Twitter tonight of unleashing Cardinal demons when I noted I was nearly ready to put my Game 7 tickets in my wallet. Whatever happens Monday, you can't complain. The Giants have put themselves in exactly the position they hoped for: the chance for a World Series and the ball in the hand of Matt Cain, a stable bullpen, and a lineup that on any given night can crank out four, five, or six runs. And the ball in the hand of Matt Cain.


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