DETROIT -- The manager of the Bravos de Margarita sends his lineup card long-distance every day, across international boundaries, to his bench coach in Venezuela -- then watches in person as his other team closes in on its second World Series victory in three years.
In Game 3 Saturday night, Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens saw two players he had recommended from South America stifle the Tigers for a 2-0 win and a 3-0 lead in the Series. Leftfielder Gregor Blanco, Meulens' recruiting coup, tripled in the Giants' first run, scored the second one and continued to play maddeningly brilliant defense. In the ninth inning, he put every bone in his upper body at risk to track down Jhonny Peralta's deep foul at the wall.
A year ago at this time, Blanco was playing center field for Los Tiburones of Caracas, on his way to a Venezuelan League MVP Award. He'd been to the majors, with Atlanta and Kansas City, but no one wanted him in 2011.
The year before that, Ryan Vogelsong ended a five-year exile from the big leagues by pitching well enough in Venezuela to tempt a couple of big-league teams. The Giants, in part because of an endorsement from Meulens, put in a bid and regained the right-hander they had drafted 13 years earlier.
On Saturday Vogelsong had to work his way out of trouble against the Tigers, a departure from the dominance of his three previous postseason starts. But Vogelsong specializes in preventing runs, not base runners. Few pitchers clamp down on an incipient threat or correct flaws in mid-game as regularly as he does. Detroit, which has scored just one run against a Giants' starter in the Series, failed to get anything of value from him.
When fans gathered to pose with the Venezuelan flag outside Comerica Park, they were not honoring Vogelsong as one of Luis Aparicio's heirs. He is a Pennsylvania boy, who has shown up in the clubhouse wearing an old Randall Cunningham jersey. But his career was reborn there. And Blanco may have stoked some pride, but only as a minor character among the nine Venezuelans playing in this World Series.
MLB teams have already seen the merits in devoting resources to scouting in Venezuela, in hopes of finding the next Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval or even Marco Scutaro. But watching Blanco and Vogelsong might persuade everyone to send a coach down there to work with a winter-ball team.
Meulens came to appreciate Blanco after seeing him for a couple of years in Venezuela. In 2011, after coaching the worst run-producing team in the National League, he found the slight but fearless and smart outfielder more appealing than ever.
"He was the kind of guy we thought we needed to change our offense this season compared to last season,'' Meulens said. "We struck out a lot, weren't taking a lot of pitches, we were afraid to hit with two strikes. He's not. He's a guy who's not afraid to hit with two strikes.''
He said he sent an email to the Giants' front office: "We should try to get this guy. He's exactly what we're looking for.''
They landed him as a fourth outfielder, swiping him from the Marlins, and then leaned hard on the 28-year-old after Melky Cabrera's August suspension for performance enhancing drug use. Weary from combining winter ball and a major-league season, he struggled at the plate for a while. But he had already won the team's trust with great defense, including a belly-flop sliding catch in right-center to save Matt Cain's perfect game in June.
"He's kind of our undercover MVP," shortstop Brandon Crawford told MLB.com.
His savvy earned him some extra credit. In a pre-game discussion about the Astros, third-base coach Tim Flannery warned about challenging center fielder Jordan Schafer's laser arm. Blanco had been studying video of the team, and he noticed Schafer cautiously approaching balls that reached him on the ground; he told Flannery that aggressive running in that situation might pay off. In the final game of the series, the Giants won 3-2 after Flannery sent Pablo Sandoval home from second on a liner that bounced in front of Schafer. Sandoval had waited at second to be sure Schafer didn't catch the ball, so the call looked risky. But Flannery remembered Blanco's advice, which turned out to be prescient.
Vogelsong's career resurrection was initially reported to the Giants by his catcher in Venezuela, Guillermo Rodriguez, a minor-league instructor for San Francisco. A couple of the coaches already knew him from his early years with the Giants, including bullpen coach Mark Gardner, who had been on the pitching staff at the time. Meulens worked in Pittsburgh when Vogelsong went there. In the winter of 2010, after winning a World Series with the Giants, he saw Vogelsong throw seven shutout innings against the Bravos, and he weighed in on re-acquiring the right-hander.
"They asked if he was better than the five pitchers we had, and I said no, but he's the kind of pitcher who can take over if one of them gets hurt,'' Meulens said.
The Dodgers came after Vogelsong first, but he wanted to return to the team that gave him his first shot in the majors, as a fifth-round draft pick. He has been the best starting pitcher of this entire postseason, surpassing even Justin Verlander; he is 3-0, and the Giants have won all four of his starts, in which he allowed just three runs.
Blanco has been a revelation to people who didn't see much of him this year. He stole hits from both Prince Fielder and Cabrera in Game 1, and then came Saturday's run to the wall. He had an eye blink to brace himself for contact after the catch.
"I wasn't even looking for the wall,'' he said. "I was just going to catch it.'' Waves of Spanish-speaking reporters, most of them undoubtedly in town to document the work of bigger stars, came to his locker stall after the game. One word came up over and over again, as the quiet Blanco beamed at the cameras.
"Increíble,'' he said.
Meulens vicariously savored Blanco's success.
"He's been good for a while,'' he said. "Everyone is just finding out about it now because he's on the biggest stage.''
As for the coach, he knew that his other team, the Bravos, had a 8-4 record before Saturday night. They'd get to see their manager soon.
"They'll wait for me to get there,'' he said, pausing before he said: "with a ring.''