The San Francisco Giants' Pablo Sandoval scores on Atlanta Braves pitcher Ben Sheets, who tres to covers home plate during the third inning Friday.
SAN FRANCISCO — 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 Leesburg's 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.