In a season that is best spent giving the youth a chance, a pair of veterans ensured the Giants closed the first half on a positive note.
Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty confounded the Giants until Evan Longoria finally broke through in the seventh, and Jeff Samardzija never stopped confounding St. Louis bats in the Giants’ 1-0 victory on Sunday in front of 33,841 at Oracle Park.
The Giants enter the All-Star break at 41-48, a team still likely headed toward being trade-deadline sellers, but a team that has given Farhan Zaidi more room for second-thought, having gone 19-14 since the calendar turned to June.
The relative surge has been a result of better starting pitching, an infusion of new offensive blood and the old offensive blood finding a pulse. Sunday, it was Samardzija and Longoria reminding there is still talent left to be tapped.
The 34-year-old Samardzija was brilliant for a second straight start, tossing seven scoreless innings in which only four Cardinals reached base – a Flaherty double the only extra-base hit. He only struck out two, but he was ahead of batters all game, with 16-of-25 first-pitch strikes. He shrank his ERA to 4.01, which rested at 4.52 as recently as June 26. The defense was impeccable behind him, none better than Kevin Pillar.
With the Giants being no-hit through six and the crowd limp, Pillar breathed life through the stadium with his glove. With a runner on first and no outs, Paul Goldschmidt lined a shot to right-center, headed toward Triples Alley, that likely would have scored a run and set up the Cardinals for more. But Pillar got a bead on it and laid out, timing his dive perfectly and getting a standing ovation from the crowd.
The next batter, Dexter Fowler, added some air to his shot to right-center, but Pillar caught up it to, too, hitting the wall as the ball hit his glove.
The pair of plays made Longoria’s shot matter. With one out in the seventh and Flaherty looking as if he could pull off history, he tried a slider on the suddenly on-fire third baseman. Longoria hammered it 398 feet to left, turning a game the Giants were being no-hit into a game they were winning, 1-0. It was Longoria’s 12th homer of the season, tying a Giants team high, and his fifth in the past six games.