Jeff Samardzija offered the Giants his best performance since 2017 Thursday night at Oracle Park, striking out seven through seven shutout innings on 90 pitches.
He was nearly rewarded with a no-decision for his gem. But the spark behind most Giants offense in recent days, Kevin Pillar, came through just in time to give “Shark” the win with a seventh-inning, leadoff, first-pitch solo shot (3) pushing San Francisco (5-9) to a 1-0 victory over the Rockies (3-10).
The Giants got two hits in the first inning off Colorado starter Jon Gray (L, 0-3, 4.19 ERA), which is as many hits in first frames as they’ve mustered through the first 13 games of 2019 all together. But they couldn’t pull the cash in.
San Francisco also scattered scoring opportunities across five innings that could have offered more decisive support behind the stellar starting performance.
Samardzija (W, 1-0, 1.62 ERA), meanwhile, coasted through seven innings. He got ahead in counts early, throwing first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 24 batters faced. He neutralized Giant killer Nolan Arenado, twice struck out leadoff man Charlie Blackmon, getting him to swing and miss four times, and waited patiently for his bats to do something.
Buster Posey said it was the best he’s seen Samardzija in quite a while:
“You could tell he was gaining confidence as the game was going along, and I think that’s kind of been the progression for him as he’s getting back from the shoulder deal that he was going through last year and hopefully he can keep that going.”
Gray was somewhat rattled early. Giants batters drew 57 pitches from the righty through the first three innings. But they squandered the first-inning offense, a two-out double from Joe Panik in the third and a leadoff two-bagger from Brandon Belt in the fourth. After that, Gray settled in, sending six straight Giants packing on 14 pitches after the Belt double.
Even two walks in the sixth went nowhere. But Samardzija kept chugging along.
Of the veteran’s outing, manager Bruce Bochy said:
“He’s a strike thrower, he showed that two, three years ago. He really pounds the strike zone well, [and] he had that going for him tonight. [He got] strike one, he worked ahead in the count very well, he pitched very efficiently. And you know that’s a quality that he does have and you could tell he had a lot of confidence going with the command of all of his pitches.”
It was without a rally or a buildup of any sort that Pillar led off the seventh by launching Gray’s 92nd pitch, an 85-mph slider that stayed up, over the Bank of America sign in left-center to finally light up the massive scoreboard in center field.
Samardzija said Pillar has been a really important piece of the team even in the short period of time he’s been in the orange and black — a little over a week:
“He’s been great for us, man. What he brings to this team — you don’t even know if he goes ofer whatever [and] you don’t even care just because his energy and how much he loves to play baseball, it’s really infectious throughout the team and I love playing with him out there…We’re really lucky to have him.”
Bochy said he was grateful to see Pillar come through in the clutch to reward Samardzija because a win adds something to such an excellent performance that nothing else can:
“It’s great to do your job and throw a quality start, but there’s nothing like getting a win. I’m really happy that he got the win tonight with the effort that he gave us.”
It was Samardzija’s first win since April 20, 2018, and the first time he’s gone seven or more innings since Sept. 15, 2017. He’s gone through a long recovery process as he dealt with a shoulder injury in 2018 that was never fully explained, at least publicly.
But he said he tries not to give too much importance to the decision in a game, noting that he’s gotten wins when he didn’t deserve them, losses when he didn’t deserve them and wins or losses when he did deserve them:
“You go out there and you pitch when you’re on the card and you give everything you have every time and learn from it and move on. You have to have a long-picture mentality with day-to-day ideas.”
A late attempt to wrap Samardzija’s ‘W’ in bubble wrap came in the eighth inning on a single, a walk and a wild pitch, but it was another failed attempt.
The Giants will play game two of the four-game set against the Rockies Friday. Drew Pomeranz (0-1, 4.00 ERA) will face off with right-hander Chad Bettis (0-2, 11.88 ERA) for the 7:15 p.m. start at Oracle Park.
Brandon Crawford snapped an 11-game hitting streak failing to notch a hit Thursday…Gray has allowed a homer in each of his last 15 starts going back to July 31, 2018, and the Rockies haven’t held a lead in 54 innings.