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Battle-tested Vogelsong unswayed by Series debut

DET View Full Game Coverage ROIT -- The Giants had a lot of reasons to be happy as they touched down in the Motor City late Friday afternoon, two wins shy of a second World Series title in three years and on the brink of building an almost-insurmountable 3-0 lead over the Tigers. They're loose, having fun, enjoying the ride and loving the company.

You couldn't tell that from the body language of their Game 3 starter, though.

Sitting in a makeshift podium, fielding questions from the media assembled prior to the Giants' workout, Ryan Vogelsong only sported a scowl. It's a rather permanent one, representative of the awfully large chip that resides on Vogelsong's shoulder because in his mind, no matter what success comes his way, he's always that guy who struggled to achieve baseball relevance until his mid-30s.

It gives him an edge in situations like Saturday's, when he'll take the Comerica Park mound with a chance to all but extinguish the Tigers' title hopes in his first World Series appearance.

But it also never leaves.

"I feel like every day I come in here with a little chip on my shoulder that I need to work harder than the next guy, and try to get myself better on a daily basis," Vogelsong said. "And definitely on game day, there's a chip there. I feel like I still have a lot to prove in this game."

But he's proven so much already, with back-to-back sparkling regular seasons and a three-start stretch in these playoffs that has made him look like the best pitcher on this team (yes, Matt Cain included).

Tale of the Tape: Game 3
Ryan Vogelsong
Anibal Sanchez
2012 regular season
Overall: 31 GS, 14-9, 3.37 ERA, 62 BB, 158 K Overall: 31 GS, 9-13, 3.86 ERA, 48 BB, 167 K
Key stat: Vogelsong is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three starts this postseason. Key stat: Sanchez spent six years in the NL before being traded in July.
At Comerica Park
2012: N/A
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 2.70 ERA
2012: 6 GS, 3-2, 3.47 ERA
Career: 6 GS, 3-2, 3.47 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: N/A
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 2.70 ERA
2012: 2 GS, 1-1, 4.38 ERA
Career: 5 GS, 3-1, 1.98 ERA
Loves to face: Miguel Cabrera: 1-for-5, 2 K
Hates to face: Omar Infante: 7-for-11
Loves to face: Buster Posey: 1-for-8, 4 K
Hates to face: Hunter Pence: 6-for-18, 2 RBI
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Vogelsong was dominant the last time out, allowing one run on four hits while fanning nine in Game 6 of the NLCS. Why he'll win: Sanchez tossed seven scoreless innings in Game 2 of the ALCS, striking out seven batters and walking three.
Pitcher beware: Vogelsong's road ERA of 3.87 is more than a run higher than his home mark. Pitcher beware: Sanchez has not pitched since Game 2 of the ALCS on Oct. 14.
Bottom line: Vogelsong has been brilliant and the Giants are comfortable with him on the mound for their first Series road game. Bottom line: Sanchez will be in familiar territory when he faces a National League squad in his World Series debut.

In fact, when deciding who would start Saturday's Game 3 in Detroit (7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8:07 first pitch on FOX), Giants manager Bruce Bochy could've easily gone with a rested Cain, the ace of the staff with the big contract and the Cy Young Award stuff. Instead, Bochy went with Vogelsong, meaning Vogelsong -- and not Cain -- lines up to pitch Game 7 if this World Series goes to the max

Think about that for a second.

Think about what that means, considering all Vogelsong has been through -- four big league organizations, two Japanese teams and five years without pitching in the Majors before earning a shocking All-Star season in 2011 -- for the 35-year-old to not only be a frontline starter in this World Series, but to be picked ahead of the ace with the stakes at their absolute highest.

Think about how large that chip must actually be.

"I think when you've gone through what Ryan has had to go through in his career -- injuries, being sent down or pitching in Japan -- you have a deeper appreciation for what you have here and also how hard it is to not just play here, but stay here," Bochy said. "I think that's why he's so relentless with his work ethic, because he's been on the other side. He doesn't take things for granted."

Vogelsong has a tall order on Saturday night, even if the Giants' lead is comfortable and the Tigers' bats are cold.

He was a lot better at home (2.86 ERA) than on the road (3.87) this year, though the Tigers' ballpark is rather spacious. The weather is expected to be 46 degrees at first pitch and should only get colder, but Vogelsong recalls hurling six shutout innings amid the sleet and 40-degree weather of Wrigley Field on May 14 last year.

"It's the World Series," Vogelsong said. "You can't be worried about how cold it is."

And then there's this: The desperate Tigers, held to one run in a combined 12 2/3 innings by lefties Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner, hit righties like Vogelsong a lot better. During the regular season, they posted a .275/.337/.434 slash line against righties, as opposed to a .253/.329/.395 slash line against lefties.

"I mean, sometimes you just can't explain it," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "Sometimes throughout the course of the season, a pitcher is going to have your number. In our case, we've had trouble all year with left-handed pitching, which is strange because we have a lot of good hitters on the team."

Vogelsong went 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA during the 2012 campaign, allowing three runs or fewer in 24 of his 31 starts. As late as Aug. 12, he led the NL with a 2.27 ERA. Then he hit a rough patch, giving up 34 earned runs over his next 29 2/3 innings. Then he rebounded once more, yielding only one earned run over his last three regular-season starts and carrying that into the playoffs, during which he's posted a 1.42 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 19 innings.

In the Giants' seven-game triumph over the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, Vogelsong notched two of the four wins by pitching seven innings of one-run ball in Games 2 and 6.

Now, after all he's been through, here he is, getting set to pitch in a World Series game that could all but ensure his team a championship.

But it turns out that chip of his isn't very introspective.

"It's not really time to think about that too much," Vogelsong said, when asked what pitching in the World Series means considering his personal journey. "Obviously, you realize you're in the World Series, and tomorrow's a big game, just like all of them are in the postseason. But when this thing's all over with, I'll take some time to really let it hit home. Right now, I'm just worried about going out and having a solid effort tomorrow and giving ourselves a chance to win the game."

San Francisco Giants, Ryan Vogelsong