SAN FRANCISCO — The Pirates went more than two months between games in which they were held scoreless and recorded three hits or fewer.
On this Sunday afternoon, it was the Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong who shut down the Bucs in a 4-0 San Francisco victory. The last time? Matt Cain pitched into the 7th as the Giants beat the Pirates 10-0 in Pittsburgh on June 13.
Once and again for a below-average Pittsburgh offense.
“[Vogelsong] just changed speeds,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It always seemed like where we were looking, or what we were looking for, something else came out of his hand… He played the forward-and-back game: east-to-west, north-to-south.”
Since the former Pirates starter returned from pitching in Japan, he has been steady in the Giants’ rotation: the right-hander owns a 3.33 ERA and 2.4 strikeouts per walk in three seasons since re-joining the San Francisco team with which he made his debut. Vogelsong went three straight months last year pitching all quality starts (16 games).
“Look at the guy’s résumé. He’s pitched big games. He’s won big games,” Hurdle said. “He has re-created himself… He’s put a foot down in the National League.”
Andrew Lambo on Vogelsong: "He didn’t get a lot of mistakes out and over the plate."
— Bill Brink (@BrinkPG) August 26, 2013
The Bucs created precious few scoring chances against Vogelsong, getting only one hit from the first 20 plate appearances and a runner into scoring position only twice:
- 3rd Inning: Andrew Lambo recorded the first hit with a leadoff single and got to second base on A.J. Burnett’s sacrifice bunt. Vogelsong struck out Jose Tabata looking at a 90-mph fastball.
- 5th Inning: Lambo worked a two-out walk, the only one Vogelsong allowed. Giants catcher Buster Posey threw Lambo out trying to steal second base.
- 6th Inning: Vogelsong hit leadoff man Jordy Mercer, but Burnett’s bunt got picked up by Posey. The catcher threw out Mercer to start a 2-6-4 double play.
- 7th Inning: Andrew McCutchen, who laced line drives into gloves his first two at-bats, reached second base on an infield single and Pablo Sandoval throwing error. Pedro Alvarez flew out to right field and Russell Martin struck out swinging.
On the Pirates Mound
Pirates starter Burnett tap-danced through several tough situations on his way to allowing only one run in seven innings, including an inning-ending double play with two runners aboard in the 2nd.
The lone Giants’ run against the veteran pitcher in the first seven innings scored by just a few inches. Burnett walked Gregor Blanco with two outs in the 3rd inning, gave up a line-drive single to Brandon Crawford then Posey bounced an RBI single just under the glove of a diving Neil Walker.
1-0 San Francisco.
“We’ve seen Walker be able to make that play,” Hurdle said.
Burnett pitched into more trouble in the 5th via a two-out single, hit-by-pitch and walk, but he got Brandon Belt to fly out deep to center to leave three more Giants runners on base.
Decision Time for Hurdle
It seemed getting seven strong innings (and only one run allowed) from the right-hander would have left well enough alone. Burnett had thrown 107 pitches, just six shy of his season-high.
“It’s a good lineup,” Burnett said. “It was a battle to be able to get that deep.”
So why did Hurdle leave Burnett in to face the strongest part of the Giants’ lineup after his lineup spot did not arrive in the Top 8th?
“It was his game out there. Gave him the ball. I’ve got a lot of confidence in A.J.,” the manager said. “Where we were right there, I figured he would find a way to get out of it. We didn’t.”
He said it. Posey grounded a leadoff single to get reliever Tony Watson warming up. Belt bounced a ball off first baseman Garrett Jones’ glove, though it ricocheted to Burnett to step on first. Hunter Pence hit a ground-ball single that sliced through the shortstop and third baseman.
Pitching coach Ray Searage jogged to the mound instead of the manager. Burnett stayed in.
“We got three ground balls in the 8th inning,” Hurdle said. “One of them, we might have turned into a double play. That didn’t convert.”
One fastball later, Pablo Sandoval blasted a fly ball to AT&T Park’s 421-foot sign in right-center field for a two-run triple. That would finally be all for A.J.
“I’m going to come after you in that situation, and I came after him,” Burnett said. “Decent pitch, pulled his hand in, put a good swing on it.”
The decision did not mean much in the not-so-grand scheme; the Pirates would have lost 1-0 even if Watson came in to pitch a scoreless inning. Still, entering a pennant race and into the playoffs, how long a leash will Burnett receive in tight games?
That answer will come in time, and it could be an October question for the Bucs, as they remain tied with St. Louis for first place in the National League Central. With the series win in San Diego, they concluded a 4-3 road trip (28 runs scored, 20 runs allowed) in two California ballparks that had given previous Pirates teams a difficult time.
“It’s an exciting time for this team,” Burnett said.