SAN FRANCISCO As Ryan Vogelsong left the mound having just completed his eighth scoreless inning Sunday, a sellout crowd that stood and applauded had to also be wondering if the 36-year-old right-hander, at just 98 pitches, would get the chance to finish what would have been his first career nine-inning complete game.
Vogelsong, though, tipped his own hand by waving it, acknowledging the ovation before disappearing down the dugout steps. In his fourth start since returning from a fractured throwing hand, Vogelsong threw eight scoreless innings for the first time in his career as the Giants beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 to win consecutive games at home for the first time in more than a month.
"I was pretty wiped out," Vogelsong said of the decision not to start the ninth, even after the Giants turned a one-run lead into four with a three-run bottom of the eighth keyed by Pablo Sandoval's two-run triple.
Having battled a head cold for the past week, Vogelsong said, "It was the smart move to get a fresh arm in there and finish it up."
Manager Bruce Bochy added the decision had been made before Vogelsong went out to pitch the eighth.
"He did his job," Bochy said. "That's one of the best-pitched games we've had this year."
Vogelsong held the Pirates to two singles and didn't let a runner into scoring position with less than two outs until the seventh, when Sandoval made a diving stop of Andrew McCutchen's sharp grounder but threw over Brandon Belt's head into the stands, allowing McCutchen to take second.
Vogelsong, though, got cleanup hitter Pedro Alvarez to fly out to Hunter Pence for the second out and struck out Russell Martin swinging at a two-seam fastball for one of his five strikeouts. It was Vogelsong's first start of at least six innings with no earned runs allowed in 2013 something he did nine times over the previous two years combined.
Since returning from the DL this month, Vogelsong has allowed two or fewer runs in three of his four starts which he had done just once before getting injured with the exception being his Aug. 15 start at Washington.
After that game, Vogelsong said, he and coaches Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner worked on a couple of mechanical changes that clicked for him midway through his last start against Boston.
Vogelsong has now thrown 12 consecutive scoreless innings. While his velocity remains down from last season his fastball rarely registered at 90 mph Sunday he controlled pitches to both sides of the plate and threw his changeup and curveball for strikes.
It was a much different sight from the pre-injury Vogelsong, who had a 7.19 ERA and said Sunday he "couldn't find anything that was comfortable. I was just out there battling through innings."
The fracture of his little finger made him a spectator to the Giants' summer free-fall, as they went from six games above .500 and tied for first place on May 21, the day Vogelsong went on the DL, to 13 games under and 14 back on Aug. 9, the day he returned.
While that has taken the drama out of September for the Giants, it remains an important month for Vogelsong, who said his goal is to finish the year strong after so much missed time.
"I feel like I'm on my way to that," he said. "I said after last game that's as close as I've felt to 2011 and 2012, and I just really need to stay with what's working right now and roll with that."
Notes Reliever Jeremy Affeldt will throw a bullpen session today in Arizona as he continues his rehab from a groin injury. Bochy said the Giants' tentative plan is to have Affeldt throw a couple more bullpen sessions before joining them next week in San Diego to face hitters in a simulated game.
"Hopefully, he's ready after that," Bochy said.
Matt Cain (right arm contusion) will also begin his rehab in Arizona, but there is no throwing schedule yet for Cain, Bochy said. Meanwhile, center fielder Angel Pagan played nine innings at Triple-A Fresno on Saturday, going 1 for 4, and is on track to be activated Sept. 1.