Ryan Vogelsong must have wolfed down an extra plate of chicken enchiladas Saturday night, because the Giants right-hander pitched the game of his life in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series on Sunday.
Two days after Barry Zito extended the Giants’ season by throwing 7²?³ innings of shutout baseball in St. Louis, Vogelsong took the hill at AT&T Park and forced a deciding Game 7 by tossing a gem of his own in a 6-1 win over the ?Cardinals.
Vogelsong emerged as the undisputed ace of the team’s 2012 postseason run Sunday, striking out a career-high nine batters while allowing one run on four hits in seven innings of work. He produced the first quality start of the Giants’ postseason in Game 2 on Oct. 15 and helped the team stave off elimination in Game 3 of the division series two weeks ago, tossing five innings of one-run baseball.
In three postseason starts this year, Vogelsong is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP.
The 35-year-old was throwing flames right out of the gate Sunday night. Vogelsong’s fastball usually clocks in at about 90 to 91 miles per hour, but he was reaching as high as 94 mph in the first inning. Vogelsong threw 16 fastballs in his first 18 pitches, fanning John Jay, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig along the way.
Vogelsong said it wasn’t the enchiladas, but the fans at AT&T Park who were responsible for the extra life on his fastball.
“[It was] the environment, the fans,” Vogelsong said. “I feed off of the fans in this stadium. They were into it early, the adrenaline’s going — it puts miles per hour on your fastball.”
Vogelsong struck out two more batters in the second and had six K’s through three innings. He didn’t allow a hit until second baseman Daniel Descalso blooped a single with two outs in the top of the fifth.
The Giants’ bats also gave Vogelsong plenty of breathing room, putting four runs on the board in the first two innings.
“I pitch like it’s 0-0, 1-0 all the time,” Vogelsong said. “But to have a cushion like that early definitely allows you to attack the plate a little bit more, especially with the offense that they have over there.”
The Cardinals eventually tagged Vogelsong for a run in the top of the sixth when Beltran and Craig strung together a double and a single. When Vogelsong walked off the hill in the seventh, the crowd chanted: “Vo-gey! Vo-gey! Vo-gey!”
In some ways, it was poetic justice that Vogelsong extended the Giants’ season Sunday. He was the team’s most consistent starter until the final six weeks of the season. In his first 21 starts, Vogelsong surrendered more than three runs only twice.
Vogelsong was the rock the Giants relied on in May, posting Major League Baseball’s lowest ERA (1.51) while Tim Lincecum struggled to find his touch going 0-4 with a 5.96 ERA.
But if the Fall Classic is going to roll into China Basin again this year, Matt Cain will need to wear his ace pants in Game 7 tonight. The 2010 World Series was won on the mound, but the Giants’ big-ticket arms — Cain and Lincecum — have been underwhelming up to this point.
Every champion needs a Vogelsong to pull through in the clutch; now it’s up to Cain to show why he is the $127 million man.
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PGackle.