CINCINNATI — It bothered Ryan Vogelsong this season that people still called him a fluke. It ticked him off when he was snubbed for the All-Star game. He viewed every duel with an opposing ace as a chance to prove he belonged with them.
But now that he holds the key to the Giants' season, Vogelsong doesn't care about any of that.
"It's not about me at this point," he said.
The right-hander takes the mound for Game 3 against the Cincinnati Reds today with the Giants on the brink of elimination, trailing 2-0 in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
Considering the October stakes, this might be the biggest stage that Vogelsong, 35, ever gets to show a national audience that he ranks among the upper tier of N.L. pitchers.
So he must have been emotional when manager Bruce Bochy informed him of his Game 3 assignment.
"Yes and no," Vogelsong said Monday before a workout at Great American Ball Park. "Yes, because of the path that I've been on. But, no, because I didn't go into the series saying I wanted to start or not start. I went into the series saying that I was going to do what was asked of me.
"The fact that (Bochy) has given me the opportunity to start a game is tremendous. It's exciting. It's amazing. But it's about the team and what's best for us."
There are players who say they don't care what other people think. Vogelsong is not one of those players. As early as February, he grumbled that some corners dismissed him as a one-year wonder.
So he gave them a second year.
In 2011, Vogelsong went 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA and made his first All-Star team.
In 2012, Vogelsong went 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA and set career highs in starts (31), innings (1892/3) and strikeouts (158).
Still, he found respect elusive. When he lost to Jered Weaver of the Angels on June 20, he acknowledged that the defeat had a personal subplot: "(Weaver's) reputation speaks for itself, and for me to start having people believe I'm real, I have to win these games. I didn't do that, and I'm disappointed."
Vogelsong also took it as a slight when All-Star manager Tony La Russa left him off the N.L. squad even though the pitcher was 7-4 with a 2.36 ERA at the break.
And just as it looked as if he might silence his skeptics this season, he posted a 6.32 ERA in August and a 6.46 ERA in September.
This time, it was Vogelsong's turn to use the word fluke.
"I hate to say that bad luck plays a part in this game, but I really feel like I ran into bad luck," he said Monday. "At the same time, I was struggling a little bit (mechanically), and things weren't going my way. It kind of magnified things."
Both the pitcher and Bochy said the right-hander found his groove again over his final three starts. That's why Bochy tapped Vogelsong, not two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, for the most important game of the season.
"You have to do what you think is right, and we think it's the right thing to do with the way Vogey is throwing the ball," Bochy said.
Vogelsong, of course, is accustomed to being overlooked. Ignored by recruiters out of high school, he went to Division II Kutztown (Pa.) University, setting the stage for a professional career in which he would bounce from the majors to Japan and back again before being released and unemployed as recently as 2010.
But Vogelsong played down his chance Monday to play the underappreciated card. This time it's not personal. Vogelsong remained so team-focused that he stayed in San Francisco for Game 2 rather than hopping on a plane to Cincinnati to get acclimated for his start.
"I had the opportunity to fly early a couple times during the season this year, and I turned it down. It's not something I like to do," he said.