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Vogelsong vanquishes error-prone Pirates in return to PNC Park

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Ryan Vogelsong won while making his first start in almost seven years, beating his former team as the San Francisco Giants topped the Pirates 5-2 on Thursday. Neil Walker had three hits for Pittsburgh.

Giants 5, Pirates 2
PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

Ryan Vogelsong has endured a nomadic existence since he parted ways with the Pirates after the 2006 season. He spent three years in Japan, pitching mostly out of the bullpen. He returned stateside last year, passing through the Triple-A affiliates of the Phillies and the Angels. He latched back on with the Giants, the team that originally drafted him back in 1998, over the winter.

On Thursday afternoon, Vogelsong made his first big league start since September 29, 2004. And it was one to remember fondly.

Vogelsong schooled the Pirates (11-14) on Education Day at PNC Park. The 33-year-old journeyman tied a career high with eight strikeouts while the Bucs buried themselves with a season-high four errors, dropping the rubber game of the series to the Giants (12-12) by a score of 5-2.

"We had outs. We didn't take them when they were there," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You pay for it up here. You can't play 31 outs against a world champion ball club and expect to come out on top. We hurt ourselves on defense and we had some opportunities on offense that we didn't cash in. A bad combination."

When the Bucs weren't making defensive miscues, they were flailing against Vogelsong. Filling in for an injured Barry Zito, he earned his first major league win since September 14, 2005, by limiting the Pirates to two runs, two walks and four hits in 5.2 innings pitched. Primarily using a low-90s four-seam fastball, an upper-80s slider and a soft curveball, Vogelsong threw a first-pitch strike to two-thirds of the hitters that he faced.

"He stayed away from the barrel," Hurdle said. "You tip your hat to him."

The Pirates touched up Vogelsong in the bottom of the first. Lyle Overbay drew a two-out walk, and Neil Walker worked a 3-1 count before lining a fastball on the outside corner into the North Side Notch for a run-scoring double.

Karstens held San Francisco's bats silent in the first two frames, but defensive gaffes led to a four-run outburst for the Giants in the top of the third.

After Mike Fontenot singled to lead off the inning, Karstens got Eli Whiteside to hit a weak pop-up on a 1-2 curveball. Fontenot, who had taken a healthy lead toward second base, rushed back toward first base. Overbay trotted into foul territory as the ball hooked away from him, got in position to make the catch...and muffed it.

"I was trying to flip it to Karstens [at first for a double play] too fast," Overbay said. "It's not a tough play at all. It's unacceptable, really."

Karstens hit Whiteside with his next pitch, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Vogelsong dropped a sac bunt that Overbay charged, scooping it up and trying to gun out the runner at third. Fontenot slid in safe, however, loading the bases for the top of the order.

On a 1-2 count, Aaron Rowand ripped a high-and-inside slider down the left field line for a double to plate Fontenot and Whiteside and advance Vogelsong to third base.

Karstens then got Emmanuel Burriss to fly out, and Aubrey Huff was intentionally walked to set up a force out at any base. The next batter, Pablo Sandoval, lunged at a changeup well off the outside corner of the plate, hitting a grounder to shortstop Brandon Wood. Wood flipped to second baseman Neil Walker, but Sandoval beat out Walker's throw to first base to avoid the double play and keep the inning alive. Vogelsong scored from third base to make it 3-1 Giants.

With Pat Burrell at the plate, San Francisco pulled off a double steal. Ryan Doumit's throw to second base was short and wide right, skipping into center field. Rowand came home from third to give the Giants a 4-1 advantage on Pittsburgh's second error of the inning.

"We're not going to win too many ball games if we do that," Overbay said. "We beat ourselves today. If we're going to be where we want to be, we can't do that kind of stuff because that takes us out of the ball game."

Vogelsong pitched his way out of a jam in the fourth inning, getting Pedro Alvarez and Wood to strike out swinging with runners on second and third base. The Bucs did manage to push home a run in the sixth, with a Doumit groundout making it 4-2 after a pair of singles by Walker and Jones had put runners on the corners.

Bruce Bochy took the ball from Vogelsong and turned to Jeremy Affeldt to quell the two-out threat. And while the lefty hit Pedro Alvarez with an eye-level, 3-2 curveball to put runners on first and second, he recovered to punch out Wood.

Meanwhile, another miscue, this one by Karstens, padded the Giants' lead in the top of the seventh inning.

Nate Schierholtz singled with two outs in the frame. Karstens tried to pick Schierholtz off at first base, but the pitcher's throw sailed wide and into foul territory, allowing Schierholtz to advance into scoring position. Aaron Rowand then singled on a high curveball to left field, scoring Schierholtz to make it 5-2 San Francisco.

The defensive foibles weren't over, though. Daniel McCutchen replaced Karstens on the mound and got Burriss to hit a sharp grounder to second. Walker tried to make a spinning throw to Overbay at first, but it missed the mark and bounced off the dugout rail. Burriss advanced to second, and Rowand pulled into third. Huff grounded out to end the inning, but not before the Pirates had doubled their previous season high in errors committed.

Stretched out to 93 pitches in his third start of the year, Karstens struck out four and walked one hitter, giving up seven hits in a season-high 6.2 innings. He also induced 11 ground balls on the day. But the errors meant that five runs (two earned) were charged to him.

"We had more to do with Karstens' line than they did," Hurdle said.

"It's just one of those days," Karstens said. "You don't really think about it too much. You want to go out there and compete and put your team in the best position to win. I didn't do that today."

Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson each threw a scoreless inning of relief to finish off the Pirates, with Wilson striking out the side. After finishing last in the National League in runs scored in 2010, Pittsburgh ranks 15th in 2011.

"Some of our challenges are continuing on offense," Hurdle said. "We just have to battle through it, keep pushing through it. Find a way to make better contact, hit the ball where it's pitched and make some in-game adjustments."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle benched shortstop Ronny Cedeno for a third straight day on Thursday in favor of recent waiver wire pickup Brandon Wood. Cedeno is batting .179/.216/.224 in 74 plate appearances this season and didn't endear himself to his new manager by not running out a ground ball in the ninth inning of Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Giants.

Wood, 26, has made four straight starts for the Bucs (one at third base and three at shortstop).  He went 0-for-3 with two Ks on Thursday.

The Pirates officially added outfielder Xavier Paul to the roster on Thursday, designating outfielder John Bowker for assignment to make room. The 26-year-old Paul has had brief big league cameos with the Los Angeles Dodgers in each of the past three seasons. He has a career .320/.380/.502 batting line in Triple-A, albeit in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (the PCL had the highest run-scoring level of any league in the minors last season).

The lefty hitter, claimed off waivers from L.A. on Tuesday, has experience playing all three outfield positions and ranked as the number 23 prospect in the Dodgers' system prior to the 2010 season, according to Baseball America. Wearing number 38, Paul struck out swinging as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning in his Pirates debut.

Prior to Thursday's game, the San Francisco Giants placed infielder Mark DeRosa (left wrist) on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 25. The 36-year-old underwent season-ending surgery on his wrist in June of 2010, and his latest trip to the DL is due to cartilage inflammation in the same wrist. Infielder Emmanuel Burriss was recalled from Triple-A Fresno to take DeRosa's spot on the roster. Burriss started at second base on Thursday, going 1-for-4 at the plate.

Tomorrow night, the Pirates begin a six-game road trip through Colorado and San Diego. Pittsburgh won just four road series all last year, but the club has taken three of four in 2011. Kevin Correia will square off against Jhoulys Chacin at 8:40 Eastern Time at Coors Field.

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