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HOU@SF: Bumgarner dominates Astros with arm, bat

SAN FRANCISCO -- The pair of Giants who finally displayed home-run power at AT&T Park have been expected to flex their muscles for some time.

Madison Bumgarner, who resembles a cleanup hitter in batting practice, and Brandon Belt, a slugger according to expectations, bookended the Giants' efforts Tuesday night with home runs in a 6-3 triumph over the Houston Astros.

Bumgarner overshadowed a dominant effort on the hill with his first Major League home run, which ended the Giants' 16-game drought without a long ball at AT&T Park. The skid spanned 513 at-bats and 138 innings.

"You figure sooner or later it's got to happen," Bumgarner said. He was referring to his big hit, but he just as well could have been discussing the club's homerless streak.

Belt, who entered the game with zero home runs in 116 at-bats, padded San Francisco's lead with a two-run homer in the eighth inning. Regarded as a potential power threat, Belt had absorbed not only criticism from fans but also verbal jabs from teammates for his perceived inability to drive the ball.

"It was one of those things I was trying to keep out of the back of my mind, but you have quite a few people on the team who like to remind you every day," Belt said. Adding that hitting coach Hensley Meulens reminded him that he was on pace to hit no home runs this year, Belt said, "I figured I had to do something about it."

Bumgarner (8-4) did the most to bring the Giants their 11th victory in 15 games. Besides homering, the left-hander allowed two runs (one earned) in 7 2/3 innings and improved to 13-2 in his last 16 starts at home, dating back to June 26, 2011. He has worked at least six innings in 12 consecutive outings since he lasted four innings at Arizona on April 7 in his 2012 debut.

Bumgarner also finished with 12 strikeouts, one short of his career high. "His stuff was unbelievable tonight." said former Giant Matt Downs, who started at first base for Houston.

Here's a juicy tidbit of trivia: Bumgarner became the first Giants starter to strike out at least 10 batters and hit a home run since Mike Krukow did so against the Astros on Aug. 13, 1985. But though Bumgarner reached double digits in strikeouts for the third time this season, the homer was a novelty.

It also was inevitable, given the big swings Bumgarner takes during almost every plate appearance. "He probably has the most power on the pitching staff. Incredible power, really," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Bumgarner. "He has one thing on his mind, and that's to air it out."

As Bumgarner said, "I just swing hard, in case I accidentally hit it."

Bumgarner's homer off Astros starter Bud Norris (5-4) forged a 1-1 tie, which the Giants shattered with a pair of fourth-inning runs. Norris walked the bases loaded with one out before Brandon Crawford, batting .170 (9-for-53) with runners in scoring position, grounded a single up the middle to score Buster Posey and Nate Schierholtz.

The Giants added a run in the seventh inning off Houston reliever Brandon Lyon. Gregor Blanco walked, stole second base and sped to third on catcher Jason Castro's accompanying throwing error. One out later, Melky Cabrera singled home Blanco. Then came Belt's homer, which followed Schierholtz's leadoff single in the eighth.

Some observers may have found significance in the left-handed-batting Belt's ability to hit a home run off a left-handed pitcher, Wesley Wright. But that factor didn't matter to a relieved Belt. "I'm just glad it happened, to be honest with you," he said.

San Francisco needed those late runs to fend off the Astros, who scored in the eighth and ninth on RBI doubles by Brian Bixler and Castro, respectively. That ultimately required the services of Santiago Casilla, who recorded his 17th save.

In a mildly ominous development, Pablo Sandoval fouled a pitch off his right knee in the seventh inning and left the game in the top of the eighth. "He took a pretty good shot," Bochy said, noting that Sandoval's knee will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.

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