SAN FRANCISCO -- When a team leads the league in ERA but has a below-average offense, games like the one Sunday at AT&T Park will happen.
The offense failed to provide A.J. Burnett with any run support. Burnett allowed four runs. One would have done the trick.
Ryan Vogelsong pitched eight scoreless innings and the San Francisco Giants beat the Pirates, 4-0, to split the series at two games apiece.
The Pirates are off today before starting a three-game series Tuesday with the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. The St. Louis Cardinals lost, so the Pirates (76-54) remained tied for the lead in the NL Central.
Vogelsong (3-4) was stifling, allowing two hits and one walk and striking out five. He didn't allow a hit until Andrew Lambo's single in the third. After that, the Pirates' next hit was in the seventh when Andrew McCutchen reached on an infield single. Both runners reached second base but were stranded there.
"He hits his spots, hits his locations," said Lambo, who also walked against Vogelsong. "He didn't get a lot of mistakes out and over the plate."
Vogelsong entered the game with a 6.29 ERA, but had a 3.78 ERA in his three previous starts.
"You can't look at numbers in this game," Burnett said. "I know he's got a high ERA or whatever. These are big league pitchers, big league hitters. Numbers aside, guy's out there competing."
Entering the game, the Pirates led the National League with a 3.20 ERA. But their .245 team average ranked 12th and their 3.92 runs per game ranked ninth. Inconsistent offense and low run totals have troubled them all season, but the potential is there: The Pirates scored eight and 10 runs in two games on the road trip in ballparks that favor pitchers.
The Pirates put five men on base in the game -- three via a base hit, Lambo's walk and a hit batter. That batter, Jordy Mercer, was erased when Burnett bunted into a double play in the sixth.
"[Vogelsong] just changed speeds and it always seemed like wherever we were looking or whatever we were looking for, something else came out of his hand," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He controlled the bat speed all day long."
Vogelsong's eight innings pitched matched his career high. He had not completed eight innings since September 2011.
"He was changing speeds well, but he was locating," Lambo said. "Any time you got a guy locating, it's going to be tough. It's going to be a grind."
Vogelsong and Saturday starter Tim Lincecum found a way to cage McCutchen, who reached base on eight of his nine plate appearances in the first two games of the series. McCutchen reached base on two of eight plate appearances in the final two games.
Burnett (6-9) allowed four runs in 7 1/3 innings, but anything short of a shutout wouldn't have sufficed without run support. He allowed one run in the third, partially of his own doing. He escaped jams in the second and fifth, then worked quickly through the sixth and seventh. He kept the deficit at one run until the eighth, when Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run triple to give the Giants (58-72) some cushion.
Burnett said unless his spot came up in the order in the seventh, he was going back out for the eighth. He allowed singles to Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Rather than bringing in a left-hander to turn the switch-hitting Sandoval to the right side, where his career on-base and slugging percentages are lower, Hurdle stayed with Burnett.
"It was his game out there," Hurdle said. "I gave him the ball. I got a lot of confidence in A.J. Where we were right there, I figured he'd find a way to get out of it. We didn't."
Burnett wasn't happy with the results, but hoped his teammates took something away from the experience.
"I was just telling some guys, that's why we're here, that's what we play for, is those moments," he said. "As bad as everything turned out -- not bad, but the results -- to be out there in that situation, it's awesome. You want different results, but that's the reason we're here."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published August 25, 2013 11:00 PM