Freeman’s homers not enough vs. Giants

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Ben Sheets was left to ponder
his pitch selection and question why he struggled to put away hitters
when everything felt so good coming out of his
hand.

Sheets lasted just 4 1-3 innings for his
shortest outing of the season in Atlanta’s 5-3 loss to the surging San
Francisco Giants on Friday night, allowing a double and go-ahead triple
to Angel Pagan for two of the leadoff man’s four
hits.

“The scary thing was a lot of them were located
pretty good,” Sheets said. “I can’t get it any better down and away.
Maybe wrong pitch, wrong selection. I don’t know. I hate the way I
pitched. … I hate the results. That’s all it is, it’s result-based. I
can give up line drives and get outs or throw everything down the middle
and love it.”

Pagan is providing so much punch at
the top of the batting order, the Giants hardly miss suspended All-Star
game MVP Melky Cabrera in the middle.

Pagan helped
back Ryan Vogelsong’s first victory in three starts as San Francisco won
its fifth straight.

“He’s really done great.
Obviously, he’s the catalyst,” reliever Javier Lopez said of Pagan.
“Everybody’s stepped up in Melky’s absence. It’s a new era every
night.”

Pablo Sandoval hit an RBI double and also
scored the tying run for the NL West-leading Giants on a wild pitch in
the third, and Buster Posey doubled in a run after missing the previous
two games with tightness in his right
hamstring.

Freddie Freeman hit two solo home runs for
his third career multihomer game and Jason Heyward also connected for
the Braves, who lost for the sixth time in seven games. Freeman hit his
16th and 17th homers of the year. He connected twice at Arizona on April
19.

“Pagan caused a wreck out there,” Freeman said.
“We couldn’t get him off the bases. He really changed the game for
them.”

Vogelsong (11-7) won despite allowing just his
11th, 12th and 13th homers of the year — his most since surrendering
three homers to the Cubs on April 20, 2004, while with
Pittsburgh.

The right-hander and surprise 2011
All-Star, who dropped out of the NL ERA lead with his recent struggles,
ended two-start skid in which he didn’t make it past three innings
either outing, a 14-2 home loss to the Nationals on Aug. 13 in which he
went 2 2-3 innings and then a 7-1 defeat last Sunday at San Diego after
being knocked out after three innings.

He picked up a
couple of things off video to get better direction to the plate with
his pitches and was encouraged by his progress despite three
homers.

“They’re both strong guys and if they barrel
it, it’s going to go a long way,” he said. “I’m just glad they were all
solo shots.”

San Francisco (71-55) moved a
season-best 16 games over .500, one shy of matching the club’s best mark
of 17-over last year.

The Giants began the night
with a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the division —
their largest since July 26 — and they haven’t held a four-game cushion
since leading Arizona on July 29, 2011.

Pagan
finished 4 for 5 and is batting .450 (18 for 40) over his last nine
games since the Giants lost Cabrera to a 50-game suspension for
testosterone Aug. 15.

After Freeman hit his 15th home
run leading off the second, Vogelsong retired the next 10 Braves in
order.

“We got three runs on three solo home runs,”
manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We just couldn’t get the elusive single
with people on base or a two-out single.”

Marco
Scutaro had an RBI single for the Giants, who handed Sheets (4-4) his
third loss in as many starts and fourth in five since a three-start
winning streak. He was knocked out after a season-low 4 1-3 innings,
tagged for four runs and nine hits with three walks and two
strikeouts.

Sheets has allowed 14 earned runs over
his last 16 1-3 innings.

Sheets’ third-inning wild
pitch skipped off catcher Brian McCann’s chest protector toward the
first-base dugout. McCann retrieved the ball and threw to Sheets
covering home, but Sandoval had already scored and the pitcher dropped
the ball.

Sheets couldn’t hold an early 2-0 lead
after Heyward’s first-inning home run and then Freeman’s first clout of
the game leading off the second.

Freeman and Heyward
were the lone bright spots for the struggling Braves offense a night
after they went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position — and were
just 17 for 98 over their previous 12 games for the second-worst mark in
the majors during that span.

“It’s getting
frustrating, honestly,” Freeman said. “We’re a winning team and we’re
just not winning right
now.”

Notes: Vogelsong faced the
Braves for only the third time in his career, and second as a starter.
He had a no-decision at Turner Field on July 18 despite allowing only
one run and four hits in six innings before the Giants won 9-4 in 11
innings. … LHP Madison Bumgarner goes for his 15th victory Saturday
against fellow lefty Mike Minor (6-10) while seeking his first career
win vs. Atlanta after an 0-2 record in his first three appearances.