SAN FRANCISCO – There’s an art to hitting eighth in the National League. But sometimes, you just have to throw the whole bucket against the wall.
Brandon Hicks made his biggest splash yet, crushing a three-run home run in the ninth inning that sent the Giants to a 4-1, series-sweeping victory over the Cleveland Indians Sunday at AT&T Park.
It was the second career walk-off home run for Hicks, who did it once for the A’s in 2012. It came after Buster Posey hit a leadoff single, pinch runner Ehire Adrianza advanced on a sacrifice and Brandon Crawford drew an intentional walk.
The Giants are getting really, really good at channeling their annoyance when they’re on deck for intentional walks. Hector Sanchez collected a walk-off hit that way earlier this season, and his extra-inning grand slam at Colorado last Wednesday also came after an intentional pass.
Hicks hit one to the warning track earlier in the game and also started a tremendous double play in the third inning behind Ryan Vogelsong, who pitched a two-hit shutout through seven innings but didn’t receive a decision.
The Giants are 3-0 against American League clubs after going just 6-14 against them last year.
Starting pitching report
Vogelsong didn’t dependably get ahead of hitters. He threw first-pitch strikes to just one of the first 14 batters he faced.
But those pitches on the outer fringe became pitches on the inner fringe, and enough of those resulted in one of his best starts as a Giant. Vogelsong walked off the mound after seven innings with a two-hit shutout and a standing ovation, which had to feel better than the “embarrassing” outing he had in his previous start at Coors Field last week.
Vogelsong only faced one real jam, and that came when he was struggling to settle in during the first inning. Michael Bourn lined a single, Jason Kipnis drew a one-out walk and Carlos Santana hit a booming drive that right fielder Hunter Pence caught near the arcade. Vogelsong left runners at the corners when Michael Brantley grounded out.
It was the last time the Indians advanced a runner into scoring position against Vogelsong, who involved his defense and mowed through the bottom of the Indians lineup.
It was the sixth time as a Giant that Vogelsong pitched at least seven shutout innings – something he did just once last year. And it was the second time in his career he pitched at least seven shutout innings with six or more strikeouts. The previous time was in 2003 with the Pirates.
Vogelsong threw 104 pitches in seven innings, and that was enough. It was the first time he exceeded 100 pitches this season and was the most he’d thrown in a game since April 22, 2013.
His decision didn’t hold up, so he’s still looking for his first win of the season.
Vogelsong’s decision went poof one batter into the eighth, when Santiago Casilla gave up just the third run at home by the Giants bullpen this season. Yan Gomes turned around a 93 mph fastball for a home run to center field – the first allowed by Casilla this year and just the third over the past two seasons.
Sergio Romo pitched a scoreless ninth to receive the victory.
At the plate
The Giants managed just one run against Danny Salazar, a hard thrower whom the Giants reportedly wanted last July when the Indians inquired about left-hander Javier Lopez.
Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford hit consecutive two-out doubles in the fourth inning to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. Sandoval later singled in the seventh to give him just his third multi-hit game this season. More significantly, the single came with two strikes – his first two-strike hit all year, breaking an impossible but true 0-for-42 streak.
The Giants weren’t rewarded for the other hard contact they made. Hicks missed a home run by a few feet and Posey had another of his deep drives down the right field line knocked down by the breeze through the archways.
They had a chance to re-take the lead in the eighth after Angel Pagan hit a one-out double and tagged up on Pence’s fly ball. But Brandon Belt continued to look hopeless against fastballs down the middle, striking out for the fourth time in four at-bats and leaving him 0 for 12 with nine strikeouts in the series.
The Giants played tremendous defense behind Vogelsong, with the Brandons combining for a sensational double play to end the third inning. Hicks made a sliding stop if Nick Swisher’s grounder up the middle and flipped the ball over his shoulder to Crawford, who barehanded it and zipped a throw in one motion.
Belt, who got the start solely for his defense, made a backhanded stop of Jason Kipnis’ grounder near the line to take away a hit in the sixth. And Belt made a nifty shovel pass to Romo to make a difficult exchange look easy after fielding a troublesome grounder in the ninth.
The Giants announced 41,530 paid and (officially, if not actually) recorded their 258th consecutive regular-season sellout to break the NL record set by the Philadelphia Phillies from 2009-12.
The Giants and San Diego Padres begin a three-game series at AT&T Park on Monday. Madison Bumgarner (2-2, 3.14 ERA) takes the mound against Padres right-hander Tyson Ross (2-3, 3.16). First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. PDT. It’ll be Matt Cain (0-3, 4.35) against left-hander Eric Stults (1-2, 4.15) on Tuesday and Tim Hudson (3-1, 2.19) against left-hander Robbie Erlin (1-3, 6.35) on Wednesday.