Madison Bumgarner, a 16-game winner, has struggled so much in two postseason starts that there's no guarantee he'll make another one in this series. That included getting roughed up in the NLCS opener.
So what the Giants badly needed Monday night was a strong start from Ryan Vogelsong to restore order to the rotation and keep the team from losing the first two games of the best-of-seven series at home and going into St. Louis with urgency verging on desperation.
And that's exactly what they got. Vogelsong flummoxed Cardinals hitters for seven innings, getting soft popups and weak grounders, allowing just one run on four hits in seven innings in San Francisco's 7-1 win at AT&T Park.
He became the first Giants pitcher to last seven innings this postseason. Coming into Monday night, Giants starters had totaled just 26 2/3 innings in six games, the lowest total for any team in the first six games of the playoffs since Division Series play began in 1995.
"He gave us what we needed," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "We've been looking for a quality start, a great start, and he really helped out the bullpen. That was a gutty effort. He's been throwing the ball well, carried that into this game. Really had all his pitches going and was locating well. Logged some pitches early, but got on track and got us deep in the game. That was quite an effort by him, and an effort we needed."
Vogelsong's story is both familiar and stirring: How -- until he made the Giants last season -- he hadn't pitched in the Major Leagues since 2006. How he spent two years in Japan. How he made the NL All-Star team last season almost exactly a year after he was released by the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. How he added another chapter to his saga at age 35 by making it to the postseason for the first time this year.
"I've obviously been through a lot," Vogelsong said. "And that definitely helps. I think I read a couple of quotes from other guys saying you don't get this chance too often, and obviously this is my first time having it. So I'm just trying to make the most of it and stay mentally focused on every pitch until I'm out of the game. Whether that comes from the things that I've been through in the past, probably, but I'm just trying to soak it all in and have fun and get the job done."
Said left fielder Gregor Blanco: "He was unbelievable. His last couple starts he's been really good. He's been focused and aggressive and he's kept the ball low and thrown strikes. That's just the way he's pitched all year."
In the early innings, there were no signs that Vogelsong was going to be that effective. He gave up a walk and a single in the first inning, a two-out walk and then an RBI double to opposing pitcher Chris Carpenter in the second, a leadoff double to Carlos Beltran to open the third.
And then the Cardinals only got one more runner past first base against Vogelsong for the rest of the game.
"When Beltran hit the double and I was in the stretch, something clicked mechanically," the righty said. "I mean, that's all I can really tell you. I just threw a pitch and it was like, 'That's it right there. That's how I want to feel.' And I was able to kind of run with that feeling and keep it going. After the third inning, it's probably the best I've thrown the ball in a big league game.
"I just kept trying to mix it up. They're obviously a strong offensive team. Their numbers speak for themselves. I really just tried to keep mixing it up. And depending on the hitter, the situation, just tried to bounce the ball around the strike zone like I normally do."
If it really was the best he's pitched, he saved it for the night his team needed it the most.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.