There was never a doubt during Friday night’s 7-0 blow-out against the Atlanta Braves that the San Francisco Giants are happy to be past their stretch of tough opponents and on to more manageable pastures of calendar.
San Francisco Manager Bruce Bochy said:
“It’s nice to get on a roll. We’re getting down towards the end here, we’re down to what? 34 games? Every one counts. That’s the way it is now. That’s the part of the season that you play for. You hope you’re in this situation.”
The Giants let loose on winless Braves starter Joel De La Cruz (L, 0-7, 4.66 ERA) from the start and didn’t let up after he was relieved. Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Denard Span all finished the night with two hits, and Angel Pagan and Joe Panik added two RBIs apiece to the effort.
After fly outs from Span and Pagan, it looked like De La Cruz would breeze through his first-inning set. Posey and Brandon Crawford extended the inning by stumping Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson twice in a row with a pair of mishandled infield grounders.
With Posey and Crawford safely aboard, the two-out rally broke wide open. Belt brought around Posey with a roping single that fell in front of center fielder Ender Inciarte.
De La Cruz made matters worse with a wild pitch that advanced Belt and Crawford to second and third, ultimately allowing both to score on Panik’s double to left field. Connor Gillaspie grounded out to end the three-run inning.
Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (W, 11-9, 4.00 ERA) foreshadowed trouble early on in the game that never quite materialized.
Inciarte opened the first inning with a lead-off double that skipped past the foul line in deep right field. He was caught trying to advance to third on Adonis Garcia’s grounder to shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Freddie Freeman followed Inciarte’s base-running error with a double off the bricks in right field while Garcia stopped at third. In clear trouble, Samardzija bulldozed his way through battles with Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis to end the inning with back-to-back strikeouts.
“As a starter, you want to get through those first couple innings, get 20 or 30 pitches under your belt. Usually things start to feel a little better after that and you get into a rhythm.”
The Braves answered the Giants’ lucrative first inning with a threatening but fruitless second. Samardzija walked Tyler Flowers to start the inning, and Jace Peterson followed up with a left-field single.
Swanson gave Crawford a tough play of his own, beating out the throw to first after rolling one to the edge of the infield grass to load the bases with no outs.
De La Cruz bounced a grounder to Belt, who connected with Posey for the easy force-out and prevented the run. Samardzija further whittled away at his nasty start to the inning with an Inciarte strikeout for out number two.
AT&T Park held its breath as Garcia rocketed a shot to the left side of the diamond, but Crawford was able to stretch his long frame to end the inning with an impressive grab.
Crawford stressed that while he enjoys making impressive plays, it’s to early to hang his hat on the highlights:
I try not to get caught up in it. It’s fun to watch highlights though, I’m not going to lie. The appreciation is maybe more for the end of the year. Maybe then I’ll look back and watch highlights.”
Angel Pagan tacked on another round of two-out punishment in the second inning by blasting a De La Cruz changeup over the right-field wall and onto Levi’s Landing.
The shot also brought around Gorkys Hernandez, who opened the inning by reaching first on Peterson’s error at second base, to give the Giants a 5-0 lead.
“You always want to put out a lot of zeroes. When you do that, you let those hitters get back in the dugout without standing in the field for 20, 30 minutes. Then they’re feeling good and you’re making another starter get out there on short rest. It just ends up falling in your favor.”
Samardzija settled down considerably after the rowdy beginning.
He struck out two and didn’t concede a base runner in the third inning, and saw his next set of outs ended by a De La Cruz grounder that clipped Peterson’s foot as he ran to third base for an automatic out.
In the bottom of the fourth, Samardzija helped his own cause with a double off the left-field wall. The next play, he scored on Span’s single to give the Giants a 6-0 cushion.
San Francisco’s offensive onslaught continued in the fifth as Samardzija slid through his portion of the win.
John Gant came in to relieve De La Cruz at the inning’s onset, and Buster Posey slapped an opposite-field single on the relievers first pitch of the night. Belt bombed a curveball to deep center field, and Posey came all the way from first to cement the score the score 7-0.
Samardzija was relieved before the top of the eighth by Hunter Strickland and finished the night with seven hits allowed. Strickland and Cory Gearrin each contributed an inning in completing the shutout.
“I say this after a win or a loss. I think we do a pretty good job taking it one game at a time and not worrying about what we did the night before. But I think the energy has been good, really for the past week or two. Whether we’re winning or losing, we’re coming into the game ready to compete, and the next day we’ll worry about the next day.”
The Giants host games Saturday and Sunday against Atlanta before welcoming Arizona for a two-game series at AT&T to finish up their homestand.