ORACLE PARK — Stephen Vogt spread his arms out wide, miming a ‘safe’ motion to first base umpire Chad Fairfield.
Up by one against the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers, having already climbed out of a 5-1 hole, San Francisco was sniffing its first four-game winning streak of the season, and they needed every run they could get against baseball’s third-most-homer-happy team. Vogt — who had been in the crouch for nearly three hours at that point, and who had already hit a pair of triples — sent a roller to the left side of second against tough left-handed reliever Alex Claudio. It was slow enough to force a quick, off-balance throw from a shifted Orlando Arcia.
The throw was late, Vogt was safe, Brandon Belt scored, and after a game-saving diving grab by Mike Yastrzemski in the ninth, San Francisco clinched its second straight series win with an 8-7 victory. Vogt’s 3-for-4 day stood out amidst an all-around effort that saw starter Madison Bumgarner grind through six innings, Brandon Crawford bust out of a slump with a three-hit day, Kevin Pillar notch a pair of RBI hits and closer Will Smith tally his 18th straight save on a 15-hit day for the Giants.
“I like to joke that the fastest human being on the planet is a baseball player who smells a hit,” said Vogt.
“You look at his game, Crawford’s game, Pillar’s, everybody did something exciting,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “It was just a great game to be a part of.”
It was especially meaningful for Vogt, who tallied the first two-triple day by a Giants catcher since Steve Nicosia in 1984 as he faced off against an old friend.
“That guy’s a hell of a ballplayer,” Bumgarner said of Vogt. “He’s fun to watch. He gives it all he’s got. Everybody really appreciates that. He’s a guy that’s easy to pull for.”
After being waived by the Oakland A’s in 2017, the two-time All-Star was picked up by the Brewers, but he missed all of 2018 after major shoulder surgery — the second of his career, and one he feared would end his time as a big leaguer. One of his companions during the rehab was his batterymate, Milwaukee righty Jimmy Nelson, who had undergone a shoulder reconstruction of his own at the same time. Saturday was Nelson’s second Major League start since Sept. 8, 2017.
“Today was a big day for Jimmy,” said Vogt. “We were there for each other. It was really neat that I could be in there. He’s overcome so much adversity just to get back on the mound, and he looked great the first four innings today. Thankfully we won, and now, I can wish him all the luck in the world.”
In the bottom of the first on Saturday, after Vogt lined out to Nelson to strand a pair of runners, the two exchanged smiles.
Nelson would strike out six over the first four innings, and hold San Francisco down long enough for his offense to stake him to a four-run lead, starting when .145-hitting Manny Piña took Bumgarner deep to left to lead off the third with a 107-mph solo shot. A one-out slicing liner off of Pillar’s mitt in the fourth brought home another run, followed by a run-scoring groundout by Arcia and an RBI single by Piña on a hanging Bumgarner curve.
In the bottom of the fourth, in his second matchup against Nelson, Vogt sent a two-out fly ball to right off the top of Levi’s Landing. The 34-year old catcher broke from his home run trot into a sprint, coming up with his first triple since May 4, 2017.
“It was really neat for us,” Vogt said. “I’m sure we’re going to chat about it tonight, just how special it was to face off. He got me once, and I got him once. We’re even.”
Vogt rode home on a Pillar single to left, the second time in two days Pillar made up for a fielding gaffe.
The Brewers answered right back with a run in the fifth, but the Giants plated three runs in the bottom of the inning without the benefit of a hit to cut the lead to one. Nelson — who hadn’t issued a free pass in his first four frames — loaded the bases with three walks on 13 pitches to start the bottom of the inning, before being relieved by Adrian Houser. Houser walked Belt on five pitches, gave up a first-pitch RBI groundout to Pablo Sandoval and served up a Vogt sac fly to cut the lead to one.
Crawford — who had hit .172 over his last 17 games to drop his average to .202 — pounded a double to lead off the sixth, moved to third on a single by pinch hitter Evan Longoria and scored on a Joe Panik sacrifice fly, evening things up at 5-5 and getting Bumgarner — who allowed five runs, but only three earned, while striking out six and walking three in six innings — off the hook. Reliever Trevor Gott, though, surrendered the tie-breaker in the seventh on a walk, a single and a sacrifice fly by Grandal.
With one out in the seventh, Vogt sent his second three-bagger into Triples Alley. Vogt didn’t remember ever having two triples in a game, musing that if it happened, it happened before anyone started keeping stats.
“It’s just kind of funny,” said Vogt, whose career single-season high in triples is three. “I’ve had some triples in the past, but never two in one game. It’s just a weird feeling. Right when I hit the second one, I thought, in my head: ‘Wow. That might be the second one.’”
Vogt eventually rode home on a single through the right side by Pillar, who scored on a Crawford double to right, marking the San Francisco shortstop’s first three-hit game of the year.
Vogt then had the perfect view of Yastrzemski’s dive into the left-center field gap on a dying quail from Yasmani Grandal to seal things off in the ninth, after Smith — pitching for the fourth time in five games — allowed Christian Yelich’s league-leading 26th homer and a single to Ryan Braun. That dive finished off a 28-pitch inning for Smith, who tipped his cap to the rookie left fielder.
“Amazing relief, he gets the safe today, for sure,” Smith said.
“You can’t ever tell from home plate how hard it’s hit, but the way he was closing, I knew he was going to make a great attempt at it,” Vogt said of Yastrzemski. “Just sheer elation right when he caught it. That’s a big win, a big win for us, to take a series from these guys with a chance to sweep. We’re playing some good baseball.”