SAN FRANCISCO -- Much will be made, and perhaps rightly so, about that first-inning Matt Holliday moment on Monday night, about the slide that launched 1,000 quotes across the baseball world, about Holliday's takedown of Marco Scutaro that either was or was not a dirty play, depending on your loyalties and the limits of your respect for good old-fashioned hardball.
But there was another Holliday moment in Game 2 of this National League Championship Series, this one in the third inning, that bears a look, too, and this one was considerably less obvious to the viewing audience and the 42,679 fans crammed into AT&T Park to see the Giants even the series with a 7-1 victory over St. Louis. In fact, it might have been apparent only to San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong and maybe to his catcher, Buster Posey, though Holliday was party to it, too. And in all likelihood, it played a bigger role in the outcome of the game than that rolling block two innings earlier did.
The situation: The Cardinals' Carlos Beltran led off the top of the third with a double to deep right center, bringing Holliday to the plate. Vogelsong, now working from the stretch, threw Ball 1 and then two straight strikes and then well, here's his version: "Something clicked mechanically. And, I mean, that's really all I can tell you. I threw a pitch and it was like, That's it, right there. That's how I want to feel. I was just able to kind of run with that feeling at that point and just keep it going."
Something clicked; and just like that, Holliday hit a weak popup to first baseman Brandon Belt for the first out of the inning. Vogelsong struck out the next hitter, Allen Craig, and induced another pop foul out from Yadier Molina while Beltran languished at second. End of the inning.
Something clicked; and just like that, Vogelsong retired eight of the next nine hitters. Something clicked; and just like that, San Francisco finally found a starting pitcher able to work at least six innings in a postseason game, something that hadn't happened since Tim Lincecum lasted eight innings in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series against Texas.
Something clicked; and just like that, the Giants finally found a way to win a home playoff game, which hadn't happened at all this October (two losses at AT&T Park to the Reds in the division series and Sunday night's 6-4 loss to St. Louis in Game 1 of the NLCS).
Something clicked; and just like that, San Francisco is back in this series, now knotted at a game apiece as it shifts to St. Louis for Game 3 on Wednesday.
So while Holliday's first-inning slide was being explained away up one side and down the other in both clubhouses late Monday, Vogelsong's third-inning moment against Holliday seemed to defy explanation. Vogelsong, at least, couldn't explain it. Something clicked. That's it.
"It happens the other way, too," he said. "I'll throw a pitch and be all over the place mechanically, and it throws you out of whack for a couple of minutes. I threw a pitch and it felt right. It felt good. And I was able to keep repeating that after that."
And Holliday? What did he see?
"He got a little extra giddy-up on his fastball, and sometimes it's hard to adjust to it," he said.
Vogelsong went seven strong innings, allowing only four St. Louis hits and the one run on a walk and Chris Carpenter's double in the second inning before that's right. Before something clicked.
Think the Giants didn't need an outing like that? San Francisco survived against the Reds in the five-game division series with no starter lasting more than 5 2/3 innings, and the Giants lost on Sunday in Game 1 of the NLCS when Madison Bumgarner gave up six runs in 3 2/3 innings.
It's one game and one game only, but it's difficult not to wonder if perhaps Vogelsong's stout outing might have righted the ship for this talented but underperforming rotation.
"He gave us what we needed," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We've been looking for a quality start. A great start. Really helped out the bullpen, and just a gutty effort."
After Beltran's double to lead off the third, the only hit Vogelsong allowed was another Beltran double in the fifth. The only other post-click-moment baserunner the Cardinals managed against him came when he grazed Craig's jersey with an inside fastball in the sixth.
He didn't even go to three balls after Beltran's full-count double to lead off the third.
"He really pitched tonight," said St. Louis center fielder Jon Jay, who was hitless in his four at-bats against Vogelsong. "He was just hitting his spots. He went out there and got ahead of hitters. Threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, and there weren't many hitter's counts. He was really pounding the zone."
It's worth mentioning here that Vogelsong really pounded the hitting zone, too, in his own sixth-inning at-bat, driving a Fernando Salas pitch deep to right center for a double that ended another sort of unsavory streak for the Giants. No Giants pitcher had managed an extra-base hit in the postseason since Jack Bentley did it for the New York Giants in Game 2 of -- ready for this? -- the 1923 World Series against the Yankees.
So is there an explanation for that?
"All you've got to do is look at my batting average for the season and know that it was probably more luck than skill," Vogelsong said. "He threw it in my swing path, I think. That's all I can say about that. But it's pretty cool to get into the record books there."
That 2012 batting average: .093. Yeah. Something clicked there on Monday night, too.