SAN FRANCISCO — Ryan Vogelsong already has figured out the easiest way to win with the San Francisco Giants: Just give the bullpen a lead.
He’s done it better than anyone this season.
Vogelsong labored through five innings to regain the National League’s best ERA, five relievers combined to throw four scoreless innings and the Giants beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 on Saturday night.
“Winners find a way to win, and he kept his composure,” said bearded closer Brian Wilson, who tossed a five-pitch ninth for his 30th save. “Guys were ecstatic to get him the win.”
Vogelsong (8-1) allowed two runs on seven hits in one of his least spectacular outings of the season, grinding out one of his hardest-earned victories. The journeyman All-Star piled up enough innings for his 2.10 ERA to qualify for the lowest in the league again, just ahead of Pittsburgh’s Jeff Karstens (2.28).
Nate Schierholtz drove in two runs, and Aubrey Huff delivered the go-ahead sacrifice fly in the fifth. Andres Torres also had a run-scoring single in front of an announced crowd of 42,277, San Francisco’s 49th straight sellout crowd — which along with players, love to cheer on Vogelsong in what has become a storybook season for a guy who bounced around the minors and Japan for years.
“There was definitely another notch in the department of loud tonight,” Wilson said.
Randy Wolf (6-8) gave up three runs on seven hits in six innings for the Brewers, who fell back into a tie with St. Louis in the NL Central. Both are one game ahead of Pittsburgh.
“They’re tough. They don’t give up a lot of runs. Their bullpen’s outstanding, so when they have a lead after the sixth, they’re tough,” Wolf said.
Vogelsong, taking the mound a day after his 34th birthday, has become the most reliable pitcher in one of baseball’s best rotations. Almost as remarkable, the right-hander’s only blemish this season remains a 1-0 loss to Florida on May 26 — the day San Francisco found out star catcher Buster Posey was out for the year with a torn ankle.
Even on a night he was hardly at his best, Vogelsong’s mistakes were minor.
Ryan Braun hit the first pitch of the fourth inning over the left-field wall to give the Brewers a 1-0 lead. The home run was Braun’s 19th.
Two batters later, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus was ejected by plate umpire Sam Holbrook for arguing balls and strikes. He had to be restrained by Giants manager Bruce Bochy, and the few minutes of bickering allowed Vogelsong to regroup.
“I told him thank you,” Vogelsong said of Wotus. “It definitely motivated me a little bit.”
The Giants also backed their starter with a trio of spectacular defensive plays.
Rickie Weeks was thrown out at the plate by left fielder Cody Ross later in the fourth, sliding in a toe late on a sharp tag by catcher Chris Stewart. After Yuniesky Betancourt singled, Stewart faked a throw to second and caught Casey McGehee heading for the plate from third for an easy out.
After Schierholtz put San Francisco ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the inning with a two-run double, Nyjer Morgan shook off boos and hit an RBI double in the fifth to even the score. The San Francisco native, who taunted the home fans a night earlier with repeated hand gestures following a running grab against the wall in center, pumped his arms in the air after sliding into second.
Morgan was thrown out trying to take third on a ball in the dirt with Braun at the plate with two outs, and fans mockingly gave him an extended standing ovation.
The Giants followed that up by manufacturing a run the hard way. Mike Fontenot moved Aaron Rowand to second on a sacrifice bunt, and he went to third on Pablo Sandoval’s infield single.
Huff lifted a sacrifice fly to left to put San Francisco ahead 3-2. Andres Torres added a pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth to give the Giants a 4-2 lead.
Relievers Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Wilson all held Milwaukee scoreless over the final four innings.
“You can’t say enough about the bullpen,” Bochy said. “What they’ve done, it’s been fun to watch. They’ve saved us so many times.”