World Series game a big one for Royals Jason Vargas
KANSAS City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas couldn't quite explain how he will feel when he steps on the mound for the biggest game of his life today.
But there was one thing he was sure of - he'll be ready to perform in his World Series debut in front of a sold-out AT&T Park, with the Royals holding a 2-1 lead over the San Francisco Giants.
Vargas will carry fine post-season form into this game.
The 31-year-old held the Baltimore Orioles to one run in 5 1/3 innings in game four of the American League Championship Series, with that win seeing the Royals march to their first World Series since 1985.
It will be a world of unknowns for Vargas.
Along with stepping on to a World Series hill for the first time, it will also be his first game at San Francisco's iconic ball park.
Vargas has, however, experienced the magic of a championship series at the bay-side venue once before.
He attended his first World Series game as a fan for game one, during the Giants' triumphant series against the Texas Rangers in 2010.
"It was a pretty electric atmosphere. I'm looking forward to being a part of it," he said.
But playing in front of those 40,000-plus fans will be an entirely different story.
"I've never been out here; never been in this situation," Vargas said.
"I couldn't give you my feelings on how I'm going to feel, but I feel ready to go.
"We've got guys in our bullpen who know how to shut things down, but as a starter I'll be trying to stay out there as long as possible."
That is the sort of mindset that has allowed Vargas to prosper in two starts during the post-season, maintaining a stingy earned run average of 2.38 in 11.1 innings pitched, over two games, against the LA Angels and Orioles.
"I think just confidence in your preparation is what keeps you level-headed out there," he said.
"You don't give yourself a chance to make any mistakes or have any excuses.
"When you prepare yourself and you give yourself the opportunity, you let it fall into place."
Despite Giants coach Bruce Bochy admitting he has thought about starting his No.1 weapon Madison Bumgarner today, instead of Monday morning's game five, Vargas will likely go up against Ryan Vogelsong.
Vogelsong has had a contrasting post-season to Vargas, giving up five runs in 8.2 innings, including four runs in three frames against the St Louis Cardinals in game four of the National League Championship Series.
But Bochy is renowned for sticking by his pitchers, even when they hit down patches in their form.
Vogelsong admitted it was hard to stay calm in such a big match-up the last time he took the mound, before giving up those runs against the Cardinals and getting yanked early.
"I think the biggest thing is just the experience of curbing the emotions," he said.
"There is extra adrenaline. It (the post-season) is going to make you throw harder and do some things that you probably don't do on a normal Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee or Colorado."
The Royals believe the 37-year-old veteran Vogelsong has one heck of a task in front of him, going up against Vargas.
In-form Kansas City closer Greg Holland was almost stunned when asked if Vargas would be mentally ready for his World Series debut today.
"What wouldn't make me think he'd be ready?" he said.
"He's a big part of our team. When he pitches, he's as cool as the other side of the pillow.
"I'm not worried about him at all."
While some closers, like Australian and Tampa Bay Rays representative Grant Balfour, like to show plenty of emotion on the hill, Holland exudes an infectious calmness.
And that has been the key to the 28-year-old's outstanding post-season, giving up just one run from nine relief innings.
"I try to stay calm as a young player in the game," he said.
"Because if you're going bad the game can kind of speed up on you and it's hard to control your thoughts and think about what you need to do.
"So something I've really tried to do is slow the game down and think about what I need to do to each and every hitter."
It seems the entire Royals bullpen has lived by Holland's wise words following the team's 7-1 defeat in game one of this series.
Relievers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Holland gave up no runs in the Royals' 7-2 win in game two of the series, the very next day.
And the bullpen of Herrera, 21-year-old Brandon Finnegan, Davis and Holland allowed no runs once again yesterday as the visitors took a 2-1 lead in the Fall Classic.
"No, we don't panic. It's baseball - you're going to lose games, so we're taking it one game at a time," Holland said.
"You can't worry about the big picture or losing game one."
On the hitting front for the Royals, left-fielder Alex Gordon's RBI double in the sixth inning gave his team a crucial 2-0 lead yesterday.
In a team that has fired at the plate in its past two games, that was a massive play for a man who had gone 0-17 since game one of the ALCS in Baltimore.
"Not really (did the team's confidence drop after losing to the Giants in game one)," Gordon said.
"We know we can't let up, and we were expecting to do the job tonight - we don't expect anything different from that."