San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Giants have been a study in perseverance all throughout a postseason run that now has them on the doorstep of a second World Series title in three years.
And what else can be said about a team that's won six times when faced with elimination during these playoffs? Not to mention one that lost a pair of cornerstone contributors over the course of this season, with All-Star closer Brian Wilson a Tommy John surgery casualty in April and outfielder Melky Cabrera banished into exile in August after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance while making a bid for the National League batting title?
Perhaps no one on the San Francisco roster better exemplifies that never-say- die attitude than Ryan Vogelsong.
The fact that the 35-year-old right-hander, who turned in a fourth straight gem with 5 2/3 shutout innings in Saturday's 2-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers in Game 3 of the Fall Classic, has etched himself into postseason lore is stunning enough. It's even more so when considering the absolutely unconventional path he's taken to becoming a not-so-overnight success.
Just two years ago, Vogelsong was seemingly nearing the end of a nomadic and injury-plagued 13-year career after being released by the Triple-A affiliates of two separate organizations (Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) over the span of three months. The previous three seasons, he was completely off the major league map while toiling on the Japanese circuit.
There was a time where the veteran hurler's performance this postseason -- a 3-0 record with a microscopic 1.09 earned run average in four starts -- wouldn't have appeared so eyebrow-raising. However, that was in 2001, when Vogelsong was still regarded as a prospect promising enough that the Pittsburgh Pirates insisted on acquiring him from the very same Giants in a blockbuster deal that brought top-flight pitcher Jason Schmidt to San Francisco.
Vogelsong subsequently underwent elbow surgery that shelved him for the entire following season and never reached expectations with the Pirates. When finally cut loose by the club after the 2006 campaign, he carried a 10-22 career record and a 5.86 ERA as a major leaguer.
For most players with those credentials, having taken stops in 10 remote minor league locales and a foreign territory would warrant a hard look at a career change in their mid-30's.
But Vogelsong still wanted one more shot, and made the most of a certain last chance when the Giants -- the team that drafted him in the fifth round as a 20-year-old 13 years prior -- offered a minor league deal prior to spring training in 2011.
Vogelsong returned to the majors after a five-year absence in April of that year as an injury fill-in for the more credentialed -- and higher-priced -- Barry Zito.
It turned out to be far more than a brief stay.
He posted an impressive 6-1 record with a 2.17 ERA in the first half of that season, numbers good enough to earn a surprise addition to the NL All-Star team as a hand-picked selection from Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
Now the same guy that no team wanted a couple of years ago is presently the best pitcher on one of the game's most formidable staffs, the same one that also includes two former Cy Young Award recipients (Zito and Tim Lincecum) and a three-time All-Star (Matt Cain).
"I think when you have gone through what Ryan has had to go through in his career, injuries, being sent down or pitching in Japan, he has a deeper appreciation for what you have here, and also how hard it is to not just get here but stay here." said Bochy. "Again, I think that's why he's so relentless with his work ethic, because he's been on the other side, and he doesn't take this for granted."
With his outing in Game 3, Vogelsong became only the fourth pitcher ever with four consecutive starts of surrendering one or less run in a single postseason, offering further evidence that the pitcher who was seen as a lost cause not too long ago has finally made it for good.
He still doesn't see it that way, however.
"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 before Game 3. "And definitely game day, there's a chip there. I feel like I still have a lot to prove in this game."
It's that fighting spirit that has enabled Vogelsong to thrive on baseball's biggest stage after years of being an afterthought. And the exact same mentality that has the Giants on the verge of being champions once more.