Friday’s Game 3 was a relatively tidy, 3-2 affair. Both starters were crafty and efficient, working into the sixth and benefiting from quality defense. Both managers used only their four most trustworthy relievers. For the Royals, the game went precisely as planned.
What a difference a day makes.
There was nothing tidy about Saturday’s Game 4, in which the sides combined for 15 runs on 28 hits. Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong was done before the end of the third. His counterpart, Jason Vargas, got the hook with nobody out in the fifth. There was an error, a host of defensive misplays and a month’s worth of infield and ducksnort singles. Ten different players occupied the no. 9 slot in the Giants’ batting order. But when the dust settled, exactly four hours after Vogelsong’s first pitch, the hosts celebrated an 11-4 romp that evened the series at two games apiece.
Here are five things you didn’t know about the game.
1. Vogelsong sandwiched two strikeouts around a Lorenzo Cain single to post a goose egg in the opening frame. In doing so, he became the first pitcher in the series to hold the opposition scoreless in the top of the first. Moments later, the Giants manufactured a run, as Gregor Blanco walked, moved to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on an RBI ground out by Hunter Pence.
The early narrative: good fundamental baseball by an experienced postseason team. The top of the third inning, in which Vargas batted twice, flipped that script.
Vargas, who flied out to center, made the loudest contact of the frame, and the Royals scored four times nonetheless. With one out and Alcides Escobar at first, Alex Gordon grounded a possible double-play ball to first baseman Brandon Belt, whose throw to second was good enough to complete the fielder’s choice but too high for shortstop Brandon Crawford to make a relay back to first to execute the twin killing.
The inning could have ended there.
Instead, it continued with a squibber by Cain that was hit just softly enough that Crawford could not get him at first. Then, Eric Hosmer hit a slow bouncer between Belt and second baseman Joe Panik; Belt elected to field it ahead of Panik, but Vogelsong was late covering first, and the Royals tied the game. Vogelsong, evidently rattled by the miscue, walked Mike Moustakas to load the bases, and then gave up back-to-back singles.
By the time emergency reliever Jean Machi punched out Vargas on a borderline 3-2 offering with the bases loaded, the Royals were up 4-1.
2. It was easy, at that point, to second-guess manager Bruce Bochy’s decision to start Vogelsong over Madison Bumgarner, who would have been on three days’ rest, and Yusmeiro Petit, who had transitioned to a full-time relief role in October after serving as a swingman during the regular season. By the end of the game, with Bumgarner lined up to start tomorrow’s Game 5, Bochy looked like a genius.
As the Giants chipped away at the Royals’ three-run edge, Petit did more than his fair share to enable the comeback. He retired the visitors in order in the fourth, and then — after Bochy decided against using a pinch-hitter — Petit flared a single into center field.
The right-hander became the first reliever to log a hit in the Fall Classic since Al Leiter did it in 1993. Petit’s single was inconsequential, because Gregor Blanco popped out to strand both runners, but the two scoreless frames he turned in after it were pivotal.
A journeyman who came to the Giants on a minor-league deal in 2012, Petit is now the first major-league pitcher ever to notch three or more scoreless innings in three separate relief outings in the same postseason.
3. After the Giants surged ahead, 7-4, in the last of the sixth, they turned to former Royal Jeremy Affeldt to protect the lead. That’s been a flawless plan dating back to Game 3 of the 2010 World Series.
The southpaw retired the side on 12 pitches, his 21st consecutive scoreless relief outing in the playoffs, a National League record. Mariano Rivera, who held foes off the board 23 straight times, is the only pitcher in major-league history who boasts a longer run of postseason impeccability.
4. Friday night was one to remember for Royals reliever Brandon Finnegan, who became the first pitcher ever to appear in the College World Series and major-league World Series in the same calendar year. Saturday night, on the other hand, was one that the southpaw will be eager to forget.
The 4-4 game got out of hand on Finnegan’s watch, as the Giants scored thrice in the sixth and put two on with nobody out in the seventh, forcing Kansas City skipper Ned Yost to call on Tim Collins. Unfortunately for Finnegan and the Royals, Collins allowed both inherited runners to score and tacked on two more by throwing away a bunt and coughing up a pair of doubles.
Finnegan wound up with five hits and two walks on his line in just an inning and two batters of work. He’s the first postseason reliever ever to permit at least that many knocks and walks without recording more than three outs.
If there’s a saving grace for the Royals from Saturday’s defeat, it’s that Collins mopped up the bottom of the eighth. The diminutive lefty was charged with two runs in as many innings, and he needed 39 pitches to get six outs, but Yost may have Collins to thank if things turn out better for Kansas City tonight.
Had Collins unraveled in the eighth, Yost would have been forced to turn to one of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, or Greg Holland, on whom he’s leaned repeatedly throughout the month. After a night off, all three should be fresh for the late innings of Game 5.
5. In the first five postseason assignments of his storybook career, Vogelsong did his part, delivering five or more innings while limiting foes to zero or one run.
His last two performances did not live up to that résumé.
In Game 4 of the NLCS, the Cardinals got to the 37-year-old for four runs in three innings, but Petit and the offense bailed Vogelsong out. Yesterday, Vogelsong didn’t even survive the third, but Petit and the bats picked him up again.
On a night when Petit did the yeoman’s work and the offense came alive, San Francisco’s starter was blessed with an all-important distinction: The Giants are 7-0 when Vogelsong toes the rubber in the playoffs. No other senior-circuit starter has ever set the stage for that many victories without digging his club an insurmountable hole in at least one defeat.
Daniel Rathman is a writer and editor for Baseball Prospectus. He has previously been a new media intern for New England Sports Network and served as editor-in-chief of The Tufts Daily during the spring of 2012. Daniel is also a second-year urban planning student at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University and a research assistant at the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.