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Longoria turns no hitter into shutout victory

The first half ends with a thriller.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Francisco Giants Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The first two months of the season featured very little to root for and even less to pay attention to, but something has changed since June 1st. Not only are the Giants 19-14 since then, but they’re just more fun to watch, and today’s 1-0 first half finale against the Cardinals encapsulated that feeling by making virtually every pitch crucial to the outcome, worthy of your undivided attention, and fun.

Neither team had a hit until Yairo Munoz singled in the top of the fifth inning. Evan Longoria ended Jack Flaherty’s bid for a no hitter with a no doubt home run in the seventh inning. In between and after all that, every play mattered.

There’s something to that. We’re not sitting around watching a team “figure out how to win” with a bunch of young guys and cast-offs. We’re not even watching old champions play out the string. That seems to be the only prescription for a team in need of a reboot, but for the past months or so, the Giants have found another way.

For the second consecutive year, the Giants have ended the first half with 48 losses. Last year, of course, they were better — 50-48 — but also not quite as interesting. It was a constant battle for that team to stay above .500. The quirk was that the Dodgers were struggling, so the NL West felt plausibly, though highly improbably, attainable.

There’s no shot at the division and a just slightly better shot at grabbing the second Wild Card, but ignoring the grander pursuit for a moment, the Giants have played the past six weeks in such a way that the rest of the season is set up to cultivate something what was perhaps the greatest long shot heading into the season: hope for the future.

It’s not that Jeff Samardzija’s going to be the ace of the next great Giants team, but the hope that the Giants will find the next solid rotation member. Alex Dickerson did not hit a home run today, but he had solid plate appearances today — the hope is that the Giants will find the next Alex Dickerson. The next Sam Dyson. Will Smith. You get it.

And all of that stuff about the future ignores that the Giants beat the odds and avoided being no hit at home today, which was the greater accomplishment of the day.

Jack Flaherty has the talent to do what he did today in basically every start. He doesn’t have elite spin or velocity, but he’s effective, and when he’s on, he’s nearly impossible to hit. He made a big enough mistake that Evan Longoria was able to get the bat head on the juiced ball and turn the mistake into a home run, because, well, that’s just how Longoria’s been going. He hit his fifth home run of the week.

He’s now having the year the Giants had hoped from him last season. It’s one he might’ve had were it not for the broken hand, too, and a reminder that these older players with multiple top shelf years of performance can still surprise after 30. That’s important to note for the legion of Giants players who’ve crossed the threshold.

Brandon Belt barreled a ball in the bottom of the first inning that went for an out.

If you go through that MLB Barrel Alert account, you’ll see Brandon Belt on the feed a lot — that (22) represents the number of barreled balls he’s hit this year — and note that a lot of his results are outs. Brandon Belt is still Brandon Belt under all that “slowed by injury” play, and either a new team or new fences next year will finally show the world what we’ve already known.

Fifteen years ago, the majority of us would’ve been talking about how the Kevin Pillar trade was one of the best in San Francisco Giants history, given that he’s the best player on the team.

The extremely low bars for batting average, home runs, and RBIs notwithstanding, he has been one of the best players in the lineup, and rather than be horrified by that thought — the underlying analytics paint a wholly different picture — maybe it’s better to note that he’s basically performed as the Giants had hoped after trading for him. Meeting modest expectations can be a good thing!

That’s my cue to discuss Jeff Samardzija. He pitched 8 innings in his last start and 7 today on a day when the Giants didn’t absolutely need him to pitch 7 innings because of the All-Star break, but hey, it would’ve been nice, especially in a tight game, and he did it mostly with ease. He’s the reason why the first hit of the game for the Giants became the most important hit of the game, period: he held the Cardinals in check. He had just two strikeouts, but didn’t walk anybody.

He gave up four hits, two of them in his final inning when the Cardinals’ lineup faced him for the third time, but his stuff looked sharp and he was able to hit his spots consistently. That’s how he avoided giving up a home run to a home run hitters’ lineup. Samardzija has essentially been a league average pitcher this year — which is the exact level of performance the Giants expected of him. Meeting modest expectations can be a good thing!

Will Smith has thrown fourteen pitches the past two days and recorded six outs. He has made this closing gig look extremely easy and is now 23-for-23 in save opportunities after today’s quick ninth to secure the 1-0 win. Intellectually, I understand why the Giants need to trade him and, emotionally, I’m a little excited by the potential return, but practically, I’m just wondering: do the Giants have to trade him? Can they just re-sign him in the offseason if they do?

Ah, forget it. The Giants have been a lot of fun the past five weeks. Just as nothing good lasts, nothing fun does, either. But the Giants pitched their third shutout of the season today on the way to their tenth series win of the season. We’ve been given hope for a better tomorrow, and that’s enough.