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Jeff Samardzija pitches a gem, Giants win

The Giants pulled ahead in the late innings, and Jeff Samardzija was magnificent.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Milwaukee Brewers
This helped.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s nearly impossible to describe how much better Jeff Samardzija was on Monday night than his counterpart on the Brewers, Junior Guerra. This is nothing against Guerra, who is a solid pitcher and a great story. Dude was pitching for a team in Spain, a couple years ago. He wasn’t even pitching in one of the top two baseball countries in Europe. But on Monday, he was all over the place and missing his spots, constantly behind and in trouble.

Jeff Samardzija was not constantly behind and in trouble. It turns out that he’s apparently incapable of throwing balls now? He struck out 10 without walking anyone, and he threw 82 of his 119 pitches for strikes.

Guerra fell behind to 14 of the 23 batters he faced, and he allowed leadoff baserunners in three of his five innings. He’s a control freak who didn’t have his control, and it showed.

Samardzija kept blowing hitters away, even when he was pitching out of the stretch and in trouble. The Brewers’ center-field camera was capturing his fastball movement perfectly, and he kept hitting the outside corner like a master.

And the innings ticked on, and the Giants and Brewers were impossibly tied. The Brewers had two hits for six innings, and of course they came right next to each other. Of course they came ahead of a productive out. Of course there was a hideous error mixed in. You knew how it was going to end. One bad pitch, one missed location, and everything was going to be ruined.

Everything was not ruined! For the first time in at least three years, Bruce Bochy left his pitcher in the game in the hopes that he picked up a deserved win, and it happened. Samardzija got the win. It was, somehow, just his second of the year, even though he’s evolved into a higher form.

We should keep talking about what in the heck is going on with Jeff Samardzija becoming whatever in the heck he’s become. Dave Righetti fed him after midnight, maybe. Samardzija has exchanged just about every last one of his walks for strikeouts, which seems like a good idea. Since the beginning of May, he’s walked one batter and struck out 59 in 48⅓ innings, which seems like a typo, but i’ve triple-checked it.

The ERA is still over 4.00, but at this point, I’m going to assume that’s rotten luck. We’re in a weird new era where strikeout-to-walk ratios aren’t infallible, and I get that. But there’s no way to miss that many bats, while limiting the free baserunners to a historic degree, and be anything but an above-average pitcher. I’m not ready for a league in which that’s not the case.

It was just over a month ago that Samardzija looked like a zitonian albatross, the kind of folly that would make 2020 harder to follow. Instead, he’s ... look, I don’t know what’s going on. Here’s a list of pitchers with 40 innings or more in a month with one or zero walks. There were 21 of these months before Samardzija, and he had 10 more strikeouts than the next highest total from a pitcher on that list.

Then he came out and struck out 10 more batters without allowing a walk.

Samardzija was an unusual free agent, the rare pitcher in his 30s with untapped potential that drove teams wild. But it seemed like we knew exactly what he was going to be after all.

Surprise! He’s a dart thrower now. And apparently, when someone throws that hard, putting the ball where you want it to go is kind of a big deal.

Is Eduardo Nuñez the second-best hitter on the team right now? The answer is probably still Brandon Belt, but the fact that I can ask the question without getting eggs thrown at me is a strong indication that Nuñez is absurdly hot right now. So this is what the Giants’ scouts were watching last June and July. It’s seductive. I get it.

That doesn’t mean that an extension is coming soon, but at least he’s a hitter worth putting in left field, glove be damned, if the situation calls for it. It wasn’t that long ago that it was doubly offensive for Nuñez to be in left field. He combined the defense of Mike Morse with the offense of Mike Broadway, and everything was a complete drag.

Cut to the present day, and he’s more than justifying the lineup spot. Heck, put him at first if Belt needs a day off. The hot streak won’t last, but it’s fun while it lasts.

Before Monday night, the Giants had sent 93 pinch hitters to the plate. The team’s win expectancy improved in just 21 of those plate appearances. There have been seven losses this year that have ended with a pinch-hitter at the plate, which means that’s happened two more times than a run scoring with a pinch-hitter at the plate.

If you’re feeling too high on life, I encourage you to look at the list. It is not a pretty list.

Which is our way of saying, “Thank you, Aaron Hill.” The Giants sent a pinch-hitter up with the bases loaded and two outs, and it actually won them the game. Before Hill’s double, the Giants’ second-best win expectancy from a pinch-hitter this season (after Michael Morse’s home run) came on a successful sacrifice bunt, which is just about the saddest thing I’ve ever typed.

We have a new pinch-hit to celebrate. About one every month or so, it would appear. Don’t get too greedy. Just appreciate the heck out of this one while the good-time feeling lasts.

The Giants had approximately 28 runners thrown out on the bases, and here’s me not having to write about it.