ORACLE PARK — Evan Longoria’s home run off Jack Flaherty with one out in the bottom of the seventh accounted for the Giants’ first hit and the only run — and the only one they needed — in a 1-0 win on Sunday over the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 398-foot blast, which landed halfway up the bleachers in left, disrupted what had been up to that point a sensational outing by the 23-year-old Flaherty, who struck out six and had allowed just one baserunner until the seventh, walking Alex Dickerson to lead off the bottom of the fifth.
One big swing from Longoria, another outstanding catch by Kevin Pillar and a shutout thrown by three veteran arms led San Francisco into the All-Star Break on both a figurative and literal sprint, as the Giants won seven of their last nine. While the Giants will still likely be sellers at the trade deadline, their play of late has belied their place at the bottom of the NL West standings.
“We’re playing good ball, so hopefully we keep doing that,” said starter Jeff Samardzija. “We’ve talked as veterans since the spring about what we need to do to come out and win. Add a few more pieces and see what happens. We all know we want to take this thing into the fall.”
Notwithstanding the team’s second 1-0 win on Sunday, over the final nine games before the break, San Francisco has found some semblance of offense. averaged 6.9 runs and 10.2 hits per game — more than two runs better than their season average that has them ranked No. 28 in the Majors in scoring, and nearly three hits better than their 7.76 average — worst in baseball.
“It’s a different vibe lately,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “The winning brings that, and along with that are big hits. That brings energy and we’ve been swinging the bats better.”
Longoria, in particular, has gotten hot. Including a four-homer series against the San Diego Padres, he’s hit .333 with five homers, two doubles and 11 RBIs. Before June 27, he was hitting just .226. His homer on Sunday was his 11th on the season.
“He was on the corners and at the bottom of the zone,” Longoria said. “The third at-bat was really his first mistake, a breaking ball in the middle of the zone that stayed up. That’s what you hope to do with those pitches when a guy has it going like that.”
The homer capped off a seventh inning that drew loud cheers from the crowd of 33,841, first on Pillar’s phenomenal catch and then when Longoria delivered the game’s only run. After Paul DeJong led off the top of the seventh with a sharp single, Paul Goldschmidt — who continued his dominance at Oracle Park with two homers in the three-game series — hit a deep fly ball to right-center that Pillar tracked down and snared with one of his signature diving Superman catches.
“It was like slow motion from my viewpoint,” said Samardzija, who turned in his best start of the season, going seven innings and allowing just four hits. “It seemed like it took about a minute and a half to develop. Off the bat, I thought it was gone, then I thought it was going to be in the gap and he just closed some ground. He does it all the time.”
Pillar also ran down a Dexter Fowler drive at the track for the second out of the seventh, and after Yairo Munoz singled to left for his second hit of the day, Matt Wieters lined out to Dickerson to end the threat.
Samardzija struck out just two against a Cardinals lineup missing Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna, but managed to pitch to contact effectively. He didn’t allow a hit until a sharp liner up the middle by Munoz with two outs in the fifth. The only extra-base hit St. Louis (44-44) would have all day was on Flaherty’s double to left-center with one out in the sixth.
Samardzija has opened July with consecutive great outings, allowing just two runs over a total of 15 innings.
“Any day you can save for the relievers will pay off in August and September,” he said. “It’s nice to see those guys in the locker room with their sweats on, nice and relaxed.”
With San Francisco (41-48) in front after seven, Sam Dyson came in from the bullpen and delivered his second straight stellar outing, strking out two a day after throwing two innings when Madison Bumgarner left injured. Will Smith finished off his sensational first half with his 23rd save, allowing a one-out single to Goldschmidt but getting Fowler to hit into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play before flying to Cleveland for the All-Star Game.
The rest will be appreciated by catcher Stephen Vogt, who was taken out of the game after the seventh inning. He took a foul ball off the knee during Martinez’s at-bat in the top of the sixth and stayed in the game after a visit from trainer Anthony Reyes, though Buster Posey took over behind the dish following a double switch at the end of the seventh inning.