ORACLE PARK — Stephen Vogt got to Oracle Park at about 5 p.m. It was a stadium he knew well. Born in Visalia, Vogt grew up going to San Francisco Giants games, and fondly remembered going to every game of the 2002 World Series at then-Pac Bell Park.
“Every time people ask my favorite baseball memories, they always have something to do with the playoffs,” said Vogt, who was called up from Triple-A Sacramento late Tuesday night. “A lot of good memories today. It was pretty special putting on the Giants uniform.”
San Francisco’s new backup catcher picked up a bat twice over the course of Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, but didn’t make it onto the field, at least until Buster Posey lined a 97-mph Pedro Baez 3-1 fastball into left field with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, sending The entire team vaulting out of the dugout.
The walk-off hit by San Francisco’s bellwether catcher, after a masterful performance from a rejuvinated Madison Bumgarner, sealed a series win over the first-place Dodgers, the owners of the best offense in the National League. For a team with the No. 27 offense in the Majors, it was as unexpected as it was cathartic, especially after a weekend sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees.
For Posey, still not quite back to 100 percent after hip surgery ended his 2018 season, the hit was a long time coming, and perhaps a sign of things to come. Despite a .230 average, Posey’s hard-hit rate this season is 43.8%, the highest its been since MLB StatCast began tracking it in 2015, and far better than the 34.9% he hit last season.
“I feel like I’ve been getting in a better position to hit, and swinging at better pitches, and in general, whenever you do that, better things are going to happen,” Posey said.
For Bumgarner, Wednesday was a return to form. After his last start, in which he gave up 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings, Bumgarner had a 4.30 ERA — by far, the highest in his career. So, the Giants’ lefty went back and watched tape of seasons past. Instead of throwing a bullpen, he studied, and made a slight alteration to his delivery.
“I’ve been feeling close, but just a touch off,” Bumgarner said. “All year, it’s felt like it’s right there, but not quite what I’m looking for. I’ve been studying stuff and trying to try different things to get to where I want to be. I don’t think it’s there, but it’s better than it has been. It felt much better today than it has in a while.”
On Wednesday, Bumgarner retired the first nine men he faced —before personal nemesis Kike Hernandez broke up his perfect game with a soft single to left in the fourth — and threw his fastball 58.8% of the time, his highest fastball rate in a game since Oct. 5, 2016. Bumgarner averaged 91.9 mph on that fastball, using his sinking fastball effectively to steal strikes on the inside corner against right-handers. He’d only topped that average velocity once all last season.
“I thought this was his best stuff that he’s had this year,” Posey said. “The Dodgers lineup’s tough … I felt like Bum was much more in attack mode tonight, and I think the crispness of his pitches were the benefit of that.”
San Francisco nearly had a big rally early,with two men on and no outs in the first, but after Brandon Belt’s 400-foot sacrifice fly to Triples Alley scored Steven Duggar, couldn’t push another run across. Instead, Posey swung at an 0-1 sinker at the bottom of the zone and grounded out to short and Evan Longoria flied out to left.
That left the door open for Bumgarner’s personal persecutor, Hernandez, who led off the sixth with a booming double off the left field wall on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. It was Hernandez’s second hit in three at-bats against the Giants southpaw, making him 23-of-45 off of Bumgarner with six doubles and four home runs in his career. It also was one of 11 plate appearances where Dodgers hitters saw at least five pitches from Bumgarner.
Following Hernandez, Cody Bellinger ended a five-pitch battle with a hard shot behind the first base bag. Belt dove behind of the bag to glove the ball, but as he sprang up, Bumgarner was slow to cover, allowing Hernandez to score, and Bellinger to reach.
“That guy’s super-fast, especially for a big power hitter,” Bumgarner said. “It took me a split second. It’s unbelievable how fast he is. That little head start was all he needed. When I knew he was going to beat me, my mind went to the play at home, and I guess Kike was running on the play, which I didn’t know, so it was too far gone.”
Bumgarner, though, limited the damage. As he’d done in the fourth, when he navigated the heart of the Dodgers lineup and struck out Max Muncy to leave the bases loaded, he got Muncy again in the sixth, this time on a grounder to second to end the 31-pitch frame.
“They were battling, we both were,” Bumgarner said. “They knocked me out of there quicker than I wanted to be, because there were a handful that went quite a few pitches. More than I want to throw.”
The Dodgers taxed Bumgarner, fouling off 33 pitches, but he struck out eight, walked two and threw 78 strikes in 114 pitches over six innings, with 18 swings and misses (all on his fastball).
After shut-down innings from Tony Watson, Reyes Moronta and Will Smith, Posey came up in the ninth with Duggar on second and Gerardo Parra on first with back-to-back singles. Belt struck out against left-handed relief ace Julio Urias, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts brought in Baez, who served up the winner to Posey.
“[Giants first base coach] Jose Alguacil was starting to celebrate before he threw the ball, and I was like, ‘Hold on, Algie, let’s make sure he touches the plate, first,’” Posey said.
Vogt had not played a Major League game since September of 2017. He underwent surgery in May of 2018 after he blew out his right shoulder during a rehab assignment for the Milwaukee Brewers, but less than 12 months later, he found himself sprinting onto the field for a raucus celebration. Even though he didn’t get to play on Wednesday — his debut will likely be on the road against Cincinnati or Colorado — he got to at least make a memory with his childhood team.
“It was weird to be in that dugout; to have that perspective for the first time was a little bit strange,” Vogt said. “Walking in here, seeing these guys, being in this stadium, being in this clubhouse, being with this group of guys, and then go go out and watch Bum throw great, and Buster get the game-winning hit, it was a pretty special night for the first one as a Giant.”