SAN FRANCISCO -- Before Sunday, the Giants hadn't won consecutive games at home since July 19-20. It'd been a little longer since they looked like the Giants that many have come to expect the past few years, but for two days to close out this homestand, as Pablo Sandoval put it, it seemed like "all the pieces came together."
Ryan Vogelsong delivered one of the best outings by a Giants starter this season Sunday, throwing eight shutout innings for the first time in his major-league career. The defense made several sharp defensive plays behind him and the lineup finally broke through off A.J. Burnett in the eighth with two clutch hits with runners in scoring position, including Sandoval's two-run triple that turned a one-run game into a 3-0 lead.
There's little for the Giants to play for collectively in September outside of pride and a sense of duty, and at times lately they've simply looked flat. But the rhetoric after they split their series with the first-place Pirates on Sunday was about not treating the rest of the schedule as a string to play out.
"It's exciting," Hunter Pence said of the back-to-back well-played games, "and that's the thing. We have a lot of baseball left to play, a lot of opportunities to progress. ... We're going to go out there and try to treat every game like it's a playoff game."
"We've got time left," echoed Vogelsong, "and we need to play good baseball going into the offseason."
Starting with Monday's series against the Rockies, the Giants play all but seven of their remaining 32 games against N.L. West teams. After finishing atop the baseball world in two of the last three years, they'll wake up Monday no better than tied for last place in the division. The desire not to end up there when this year is over -- at the very least -- should provide some motivation.
There are also individual cases, like those of the starting pitchers in their past two games. Tim Lincecum is hurtling toward free agency while trying to avoid eclipsing his career-high loss total of 15, set last year. Vogelsong missed nearly three months with the broken pinkie finger this summer and struggled mightily in his nine starts before that, and said it wasn't until his last start against Boston that he really started to feel comfortable with his mechanics -- partly the result of adjustments made with the coaching staff.
"At this point (finishing strong is) the goal," Vogelsong said Sunday. "Obviously we've got a good amount of games left and I just need to keep doing what I'm doing right now. I said after last game that's as close as I've felt to 2011 and 2012, and just really need to stay with what's working right now and roll with that."
And really, there's the simple fact that the atmosphere inside AT&T Park -- which has had its share of quiet moments lately -- actually reached a level of excitement Sunday. Nobody wants to watch a last-place team coast to the finish. Sunday, a legitimate sellout crowd -- announced at 41,815, with the canine attendance for the Dog Days of Summer promotion not accounted for -- got up several times starting with Sandoval's leaping catch to rob Andrew McCutchen of a hit in the first inning.
Other occasions included Sandoval's two-run triple and the final out, recorded by Sandy Rosario. The longest ovation was reserved for Vogelsong, as he walked off the mound having completed his eighth scoreless inning on his 98th pitch. As he neared the dugout steps, Vogelsong acknowledged the crowd with several brief waves.
"It's important to recognize them," Vogelsong said later. "They've stuck with us through an obvious tough season. They keep showing up and cheering for us. It's nice for them to be recognized. You have to tell them that you hear them, that it's not going on deaf ears. That was basically what it was."
* Tomorrow's game story focuses on Vogelsong's best start of the season. He held the Pirates to two singles in eight innings, didn't allow a runner into scoring position with less than two outs until the seventh and struck out five. Vogelsong hasn't allowed a run in his last 12 innings and his ERA, inflated by his pre-injury struggles, dropped in this one start from 6.29 to 5.58.
The gamer gets more into what has changed for Vogelsong since his return from the DL, but he was asked afterward if Sunday's start was more meaningful because of what he's gone through this summer to come back from the injury. His answer:
"I mean, yes and no. It's nice to get results, because you work so hard to get things straight. You work hard between starts. So it's nice to get good results."
Vogelsong added that it was "nice just to have a good game against (the Pirates)," who had beaten him in his last three starts against them. Sunday, he needed just 98 pitches to get through the eight innings, which matched his career high. Vogelsong still doesn't have a nine-inning complete game in his career -- his lone complete game came in a six-inning, 3-0 win against the Cubs on May 14, 2011 -- but he and manager Bruce Bochy both said the decision was made before he pitched the eighth Sunday that that would be his final inning.
"I was pretty wiped out," Vogelsong said. "I've been battling his head cold for about a week and I think that zapped my energy more than anything else. At that point in time it was the smart move to get a fresh arm in there and finish it up."
* Part of Sandoval's "pieces coming together" quote was the Giants' defense on Sunday. Along with Sandoval's leaping catch in the first, catcher Buster Posey threw out Andrew Lambo trying to steal second for the final out in the fifth inning and started a double play in the sixth when Pirates starter A.J. Burnett bunted with nobody out trying to move up Jordy Mercer, whom Vogelsong hit with a pitch leading off the inning.
"One-run game, the leadoff guy gets on and you're hoping to get the guy out at second," Vogelsong said. "To have two outs there, that's a huge play. Changed the whole inning."
Sandoval also made a diving stop of McCutchen's sharp grounder in the seventh. He did throw high to first, allowing McCutchen to reach, but it was an example of what Bochy agreed is a better-moving Sandoval the past couple weeks.
"He's really bouncing around so much better now," Bochy said. "He's dropped a few pounds and it's helped him over there. He's bouncing around like a cat."
How many pounds?
"I lost 20 pounds, man," said Sandoval, who reportedly changed his diet with the help of his brother Luis, who recently graduated from culinary school and whom Sandoval hired as his personal chef.
"I feel great. The way that I've been moving, I've got more range."
* Posey went 2-for-3 with an RBI single in the third -- his sixth RBI in his last 31 games -- to finish the homestand 9-for-24. Bochy said he sees Posey having better at-bats than in the three-week stretch that saw his average dip from .326 on July 20 to .300 on Aug. 11. It's back up to .307 as of Sunday.
* The Giants close out their 16-day, 16-game stretch with three in Colorado beginning Monday evening. Here are the pitching probables:
Monday: RHP Juan Nicasio (7-6, 4.79) vs. LHP Barry Zito (4-9, 5.63)
Tuesday: RHP Chad Bettis (0-2, 4.50) vs. RHP Yusmeiro Petit (0-0, 3.38)
Wednesday: RHP Jhoulys Chacin (12-7, 3.22) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (11-8, 2.84)
Petit will be making his first start of the season for the Giants in place of Matt Cain. The right-hander has 37 major-league starts in his career but only one since 2009.
-- Matt Kawahara