WASHINGTON – The Giants have spent most of this season scrapping for singles, running the bases and hoping against hope.
But Hector Sanchez made the slow trot fashionable once again.
A strike away from being swept out of Nationals Park, the Giants received a bolt from the blue. Sanchez crushed a pinch, three-run home run that sailed just inside the right field pole.
Sergio Romo got ready in a hurry, shortstop Brandon Crawford made a diving catch and the Giants grabbed a 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals.
Brandon Belt’s solo shot in the sixth inning – his team-leading 15th of the season -- was the sum of the Giants’ offense before the ninth. That’s when Buster Posey hit a leadoff single, Roger Kieschnick drew a two-out walk and Nationals closer Rafael Soriano tried to double up on high, 2-2 fastballs.
The first one was taken at the top of the zone, eliciting boos from the crowd. The second one might have been even higher, but Sanchez was ready with an uppercut swing and unloaded.
Just like that, the Giants avoided what would’ve been a three-game sweep. They also won for the first time in eight games within view of the Capitol dome.
Starting pitching report
It couldn’t have been more of a grind for Ryan Vogelsong with a mortar and pestle. He threw 92 pitches and that netted him just 11 outs, including a pair of sacrifice attempts.
Vogelsong didn’t pitch the Giants out of the game, which is the best thing you could say after he handed over the baseball trailing 3-0 with two outs in the fourth.
He threw four sliders to strike out pitcher Dan Haren and strand the bases loaded in the second inning. But he wasn’t as fortunate in the third, when Ian Desmond hit a two-run double and Adam LaRoche followed with a soft RBI single that barely eluded Kieschnick in left field. The Nats also swiped two bases against Vogelsong in the inning.
A single and a two-out walk drove Vogelsong from the game in the third; Jose Mijares got Bryce Harper to line out and strand both inherited runners.
Vogelsong was making just his second start after returning from a crushed pinky finger that he sustained when hit by a Craig Stammen pitch on May 20.
The relievers combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings, giving the Giants a chance to rally. Guillermo Moscoso was able to pitch around Jayson Werth’s leadoff double in the fifth, as well as his own errant pickoff throw. He issued a pair of intentional walks in the process.
Bruce Bochy isn’t a fan of the intentional walk, but the Giants have issued 50 of them – most among all major league clubs.
Sandy Rosario recorded one out and it was a painful one. He started the seventh by giving up a line drive to Adam LaRoche that appeared to hit him in the chest. Rosario recovered and threw to first base for the out, but was accompanied off the field by two trainers.
Romo struck out one while recording his 29th save in 33 attempts.
At the plate
Early runs are so important for the Giants on the road, and they had a chance to bust through against Haren in the first inning. Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey singled, and Hunter Pence walked with two outs to load the bases.
But Pablo Sandoval popped up a 2-2 cutter and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman caught it in foul ground.
The Nats made errors in the second and fifth but the Giants didn’t score until Belt took Haren deep in the sixth. By that point, Belt had owned the last four home runs hit by Giants. When Sanchez went deep, it was the first time a Giant other than Belt homered since Crawford on Aug. 2 – 13 days ago.
Posey singled to start the ninth against Soriano, bringing the tying run to the plate. It looked like another rally that would fizzle as Pence struck out and Sandoval flied out before Kieschnick drew a walk to give Sanchez a chance.
Crawford made a full-extension dive up the middle to take a leadoff single away from Bryce Harper in the ninth.
The Nationals announced 36,719 paid. A light jacket was a good idea on an unseasonably cool August night on the banks of the Anacostia.
The Giants visit the very expensive and very publicly funded Marlins Park for a three-game series with owner/scoundrel Jeffrey Loria’s NL-worst Miami Marlins. Chad Gaudin (5-2, 2.42 ERA) takes the mound Friday against Marlins right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (2-2, 2.82). First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. PDT. The Giants will miss rookie strikeout artist Jose Fernandez in the series; they’ll send Matt Cain (7-8, 4.44) against right-hander Henderson Alvarez (2-1, 3.18) on Saturday and Madison Bumgarner (11-7, 2.73) against right-hander Tom Koehler (3-8, 4.62) on Sunday.
Hector Sanchez's home run was the first time a Giant other than Brandon Belt homered since Brandon Crawford on Aug. 2 – 13 days ago.
Hector Sanchez's game-winning home run Thursday was his first big fly of the season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)