SAN FRANCISCO — There is probably nothing the Pirates could have done last fall to beat Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card Game, but Monday night provided a reminder that the game sure would have been closer had Gerrit Cole started for Pittsburgh rather than Edinson Volquez.
Cole, one of the game’s best young pitchers, allowed just two unearned runs over seven innings as the Pirates handed the Giants a 4-3 loss that was their third straight. The right-hander struck out nine and gave up just five hits while beating Ryan Vogelsong, who was undefeated in May.
It’s not ideal to load the bases for former MVP Andrew McCutchen, but Vogelsong did it twice in the first five innings. Only a spectacular catch and a very good one kept the Giants from falling way behind.
Brandon Belt’s two-run double had the Giants up by a pair when McCutchen came up with the bags full in the third. He smoked a ball to the left-center gap and looked to have a three-run double, but Angel Pagan made a diving catch on the warning track that limited the Pirates to just one run. Vogelsong got Neil Walker looking to get out of the jam.
A double, fielder’s choice, hit-by-pitch and walk loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, and this time McCutchen hit one to the other gap. Hunter Pence chased it down and made a sliding catch as McCutchen got stuck with a second sacrifice fly rather than a second three-run double. This time, Vogelsong couldn’t escape. Walker lined a ball that rolled to the wall in left and two more runs scored as the Pirates went up 4-2.
The Giants had a golden opportunity to strike back in the sixth when they loaded the bases with no outs. But Cole struck out Belt and then got Brandon Crawford to hit into a double play.
Cole handed the ball to the bullpen after seven. His 100th and final pitch was a 97 mph two-seamer that froze Justin Maxwell.
Starting pitching report: Vogelsong gave up four total runs in five May starts and then allowed four runs — three earned — over six innings in his first start of June. He gave up five hits, walked two and struck out five.
Bullpen report: All eyes are on Jean Machi after Bruce Bochy said the Giants will soon cut down to seven relievers. Machi is out of options, and in his inning of work he gave up a rocket to third that Matt Duffy jumped to catch and then a deep fly to the warning track.
At the plate: Nori Aoki had a single, double and two runs. He also stole his 12th base. Aoki is on pace for 37 stolen bases, which would be his career-high.
In the field: The Pagan play was spectacular, as mentioned above, and one of his top two or three as a Giant. An underrated play: Posey quickly getting to Cole’s fifth-inning bunt attempt and firing a strike to third to nail Chris Stewart, who had doubled.
Attendance: The Giants announced a crowd of 41,546 human beings. Steph Curry did not attend.
Up next: It doesn’t get an easier. The Giants send Chis Heston to the mound against A.J. Burnett, who is 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA in his return to Pittsburgh.