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Giants win 1-0, take series from Marlins

Jeff Samardzija was solid, the bullpen was tremendous, and Brandon Crawford hit the dinger the Giants needed.

Also, Barry Bonds was ejected, which seems important.
Also, Barry Bonds was ejected, which seems important.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants won a series in the second half, and we’ve never missed Russ Hodges more. They said it couldn’t be done. They said it was impossible for the Giants to win two games out of three, or even three games out of four. And here we are. It took only eight series to do it, too.

This particular win was a solid Jeff Samardzija outing, which is newsworthy on its own. It was, in fact, a 1-0 victory, which stretches your suspension of disbelief. What if I told you that the bullpen was absolutely scintillating, getting out of a jam and holding the lead without drama? We’re in Toon Town now, and you’re right to be skeptical.

It happened, though, and it supports the obvious-and-maddening theory that Samardzija shouldn’t give up four-and-a-half homers for every nine innings he pitches, which is what he’s done since the start of June. That’s because no pitcher should. Ryan Theriot probably wouldn’t allow that many homers if he came back as a knuckleballer. It’s a truism that became more and more frustrating as Samardzija kept allowing dinger after dinger.

That’s not to say that he shouldn’t allow any, or that he isn’t going to allow more than he should. It’s just that there should be respites in the middle of the dinger apocalypse. There should be oases where you remembered just how okay he was supposed to be.

Here’s one! A nice sandy spot with a palm tree and a little lagoon. Samardzija wasn’t perfect (three walks, just 5⅔ innings), but he was much, much better than he’s been for months. His ERA in his last eight starts was 6.99, which is just an old baseball trick to make you think it’s under 7.00, and he had allowed 11 homers in 46 innings, which is an unbelievable total. I get that he can catch too much of the plate, and that his sliders tend to sail where there be dragons, but it still seemed like he was acting only like a caricature of himself without ever supplying the contrast that made him a viable, pretty okay pitcher.

The difference? It might have been a curveball. Brooks Baseball and MLBAM had it as a slider (or maybe a splitter), but you can see the velocity dip down into the high-70s, which is much slower than his typical slider. Mike Krukow kept calling it a curveball, so I’ll defer to him. Regardless of what you call it, here’s what it really was: a different look. Samardzija has been a fastball/cutter/slider pitcher for years, which means hitters don’t have to bother being on guard for the slow stuff.

The last time Samardzija threw an official curveball was 2012, and there’s probably a reason for that. Still, even if it’s a slower slider, it was effective today. This praise for the pitch comes with a money-back guarantee if one of them is knocked into Hayward next week, but it’s appropriate to applaud the Giants and Samardzija for doing something differently. My answer to the dinger problem was a big ol’ shrug emoticon, so I’m glad the Giants were a little more forward-thinking.

Does this mean Samardzija is back? Not sure what that even means. Maybe it means that he’s back to mixing in a few scoreless starts into his dinger derbies, just like the Giants were hoping when they signed him. The rise and fall and partial rise of Samardzija would mirror the team’s, ideally. Not as good as they were in the first half. Not as bad as they were when everything fell apart. Hopefully erring on the side of good.

It wouldn’t be that wacky if the Giants and Samardzija were both fun to watch over the final two months, considering how much fun it was to watch them in the first two months. This was a fine start toward that goal.

* * *

And that fine start might not have happened without the wondrous arm of Angel Pagan.

[checks notes]

Huh, nope, that’s what it said.

It was a great play, starting with the angle of approach, to the pickup and transfer of the ball, to the decision to go to the right base that was made well before he got to the ball, to the strong, accurate off-balance throw. Pagan has poor defensive stats to match with the side-eyeball test we’ve been giving him all year, which you would expect. But those numbers aren’t all about twisting routes or poor jumps. They include an outfielder’s arm, too, and even when Pagan has picked up an assist this year, it’s come on a less-than-convincing path to the plate.

That, though? Just an outstanding play on several levels. These are the plays you don’t see the Giants make when they’re in the middle of the death spiral, and it’s not like you miss them at the time. At least, you can’t put your finger on exactly what’s making them so awful. It’s the absence of plays like that, which don’t have to show up.

It’s fun when they do, though.

* * *

Since 1958, the Giants have won just 23 games by a score of 1-0 where the only run came on a homer. The last time came in 2010, when Buster Posey hit one off Andrew Cashner in the eighth inning of a game at Wrigley Field. I remember that game. It’s where I thought, “Maybe this is the y ... nah.” Just like all the others.

Crawford had just two lousy hits in this game, but the advanced statistics will note that his home run was probably the most important hit of them all. And that’s why you need advanced statistics.

* * *

Bullpen roll call! Santiago Casilla was magnificent again, striking out two with a dastardly knuckle-curve-what-have-you. Will Smith finally had his game-saving moment with the Giants, getting out of a jam he didn’t create and looking great doing it. Hunter Strickland was effective, and everything went according to plan. Which it needs to do in a 1-0 game like that.

But let’s pay special attention to Derek Law, who is apparently the eighth-inning guy now. The rookie is putting together an even better season than us fanboys could have anticipated, striking out a batter per inning and walking just six batters on the season. That’s a cool 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is the seventh-best mark among relievers in baseball.

June was a bit of a rough month for Law, as he allowed six runs in 13 innings, along with his only home run of the season. Since then, 17 outings, nary a run. This was the second time he was plopped down in the eighth inning of a close game and left alone, with the last time being against the Phillies last week. He was primarily a matchup guy for Bruce Bochy earlier in the year, but considering he has no discernable platoon splits, this is the best way to use him. Plop and leave.

Pretend that Law didn’t exist before the deadline and that the Giants got him along with Matt Moore in the deal with the Rays. What a coup! A power reliever with years and years of team control in addition to the young, underpriced starting pitcher! Really, everything in life is better when you make it up.

Either way, the Giants had a great bullpen day, and it’s no coincidence that Law was in the middle of it all. He’s been overlooked because he’s succeeded while the team has spiraled, but it turns out that he’s quite excellent at his job. The Giants kind of needed that.