A trio of San Francisco Giants played a huge role in the NL's most-lopsided All-Star victory.
After limping into the break, the Giants hope to get their season back on track beginning in Friday night's second-half opener against the lowly Houston Astros .
San Francisco (46-40) has dropped seven of nine, but is only one-half game back of NL West-leading Los Angeles.
"We'll take where we're at right now," Bruce Bochy told the Giants' official website. "This is what you play for, to be right in the thick of things at this point, and we are."
A sluggish offense is partially responsible for San Francisco's latest woes, as the team combined for three runs in losing its last two games and has plated three or fewer in seven of the last 12 contests.
Despite the struggles, two Giants had few problems offensively in Tuesday's 8-0 win for the NL. Pablo Sandoval hit the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star history and Melky Cabrera hit a two-run homer and won the MVP award.
Sandoval's triple was part of a five-run first inning, which was more than enough help for NL starter Matt Cain , who allowed one hit in two innings to earn the win and give the NL home-field advantage for the World Series.
As poor as the Giants were playing before the Midsummer Classic, the Astros were even worse.
Houston (33-53) has one win in its last 11 games and owns the majors' worst record. The club traded slugger Carlos Lee to Miami on July 4 and more moves could be on the way.
"There's a lot of good things that happened and a lot of things we have to work on," manager Brad Mills told the Astros' official website.
One of the biggest areas Houston needs to improve is its play away from Minute Maid Park. The Astros have three wins in their last 22 road games and are 9-32 on the season.
Reversing this trend appears to be difficult against Madison Bumgarner (10-5, 3.27), who hopes to bounce back from his worst outing of the year.
Bumgarner was tagged for a season-high seven runs and nine hits - including three homers - in five innings of a 9-4 loss to Washington on July 4.
It would seem he should have a good shot at rebounding at AT&T Park, where he is 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA in seven starts and has a 1.09 ERA in winning his last three there. One of those outings came against the Astros on June 12, when the left-hander allowed two runs and six hits while striking out 12 in 7 2-3 innings of a 6-3 win.
The Giants took two of three in that series, which was highlighted by Cain's perfect game. Cabrera was 4 for 12 with a homer and three RBIs in the three games, while Sandoval was 5 for 12 with two RBIs for San Francisco, which is 9-4 against Houston at home since 2009.
San Francisco will be getting its first look of the season at Jordan Lyles (2-5, 5.08), who made his only start in the series on Aug. 20, yielding two unearned runs in five innings of a 7-5 victory.
Lyles made the Astros' final start before the break against Milwaukee on Sunday, giving up two runs and six hits in seven innings of a 5-3, 10-inning win. It was the third time in four starts the righty permitted two or fewer runs.
Jose Altuve , Houston's lone All-Star, is 5 for 11 with a homer lifetime against Bumgarner.
|June 26, 2012||Justin Maxwell||15-Day DL||Loose bodies in left ankle|
|June 24, 2012||Jose Altuve||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right hamstring|
|June 20, 2012||Justin Maxwell||Day-to-Day||Left game - Left ankle sprain|
|June 13, 2012||Bud Norris||15-Day DL||Sprained left knee|
|June 13, 2012||Bud Norris||15-Day DL||Sprained left knee|
|June 11, 2012||Wilton Lopez||15-Day DL||Right elbow sprain|
|San Francisco Giants|
|June 26, 2012||Shane Loux||15-Day DL||Strained neck|
|June 14, 2012||Aubrey Huff||Day-to-Day||Sprained right knee|
|June 11, 2012||Aubrey Huff||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|June 07, 2012||Melky Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right hamstring|
|June 02, 2012||Santiago Casilla||Day-to-Day||Bruised knee|
|May 16, 2012||Melky Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left toe|
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Pablo Sandoval sprinted around the bases in those bright orange cleats the same way he did in the All-Star game and added a mesmerizing home-plate collision for an encore.
What a Giant return.
Madison Bumgarner pitched seven innings of two-hit ball, Buster Posey homered and the Giants beat the Houston Astros 5-1 on Friday night in a game that will be remembered more for the final run than the dominance San Francisco showed in its first outing since the break.
Sandoval followed up the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star history with a triple in the eighth. The portly player nicknamed Kung Fu Panda - and listed at a generous 240 pounds - tagged up on Angel Pagan 's short fly to left and barreled into catcher Chris Snyder to jar the ball loose and score.
"That's a lot of mass coming to home plate," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
The home-plate collision, which has been a hot topic in San Francisco since Posey's season ended a year ago in a play at the plate with the Marlins' Scott Cousins , still had players buzzing in the clubhouse after the game and could provide the kind of energy San Francisco needs heading into the season's second half.
If nothing else, the All-Star break seemed to rejuvenate the Giants.
Bumgarner (11-5) retired 13 straight until Snyder's solo shot in the seventh inning in another dominating start for the blossoming lefty. He struck out five and walked two, giving praise to fellow Giants lefty Jeremy Affeldt for helping him with a new twist on his curveball that he applied for the first time.
Posey hit his team-leading 11th home run of the season in the first off Wandy Rodriguez , who allowed seven hits and two walks in seven innings. Rodriguez (7-7) also had four strikeouts to begin a 10-game road trip for the last-place Astros.
Santiago Casilla struck out the only two batters he faced for his 22nd save in 26 chances.
After losing five of six to end the season's first half, San Francisco started four players - Posey, Matt Cain , Pablo Sandoval and MVP Melky Cabrera - in the Mid-Summer Classic, where they helped the National League roll past the AL 8-0 and brought the momentum back to the Bay Area.
Sandoval credited his cleats for the near repeat performance - even though he expects a $1,000 fine for his shoes not completely matching the uniform, which were orange shirts and white pants on the usual "Orange Friday." As for the play, both players called it clean.
"It's tough," said Sandoval, a former catcher converted to third base. "He was in great position and I was in great position, so nobody got hurt. I see the ball coming, and I put my head down and you have to go."
Said Snyder: "I've got no problem with that. I came out fine. I just didn't hold onto the ball."
Even before the collision, the Giants looked more like a team ready to erase the Dodgers' half-game lead in the NL West than the one that stumbled before the break.
Posey showed some immediate pop when he drove a ball over the wall in center field and off the roof of a concession stand near the black backdrop in center field to give the Giants a 2-0 lead in the first. A ballpark scoreboard estimated the shot at 448 feet, landing in a place - and with the kind of acceleration - rarely seen at AT&T Park since home run king Barry Bonds retired.
Pagan, Brandon Belt and Joaquin Arias each singled to open the second to put San Francisco ahead 4-0. Before Bumgarner even returned to the mound, he had all the supported he needed.
"Was kind of nervous," Bumgarner said. "Didn't know how to feel with the time off."
The left-hander brought his season total to 104 strikeouts - reaching the century mark by getting Brian Bixler swinging for the second out in the first - and never faced any serious opposition from a depleted Astros lineup.
Bumgarner, who pitched a one-hitter for his first complete game two starts ago against Cincinnati, gave up a single to Jed Lowrie leading off the second. He later walked Matt Downs with two outs before getting Rodriguez out on a soft liner to short.
Bumgarner plowed through the Astros lineup for the next four innings until Snyder pulled his fourth home run of the season over the left field wall, clearing the on-site ambulance and skipping down the ballpark's tunnel.
NOTES: Houston reliever Wilton Lopez returned to the active roster after missing 26 games with a sprained right elbow. Astros manager Brad Mills said he wants to limit Lopez to about 25 pitches whenever he pitches again. ... Nate Schierholtz hit his first career pinch-hit triple leading off San Francisco's seventh. ... Closer Brian Wilson handed out 1,000 baseball gloves from the Giants Community Fund's Junior Giants baseball program and held a question-and-answer session before the game. ... Giants RHP Tim Lincecum (3-10, 6.42 ERA) faces Houston RHP Lucas Harell (7-6, 4.56 ERA) on Saturday.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP