SAN FRANCISCO -- Two leaps in the fourth inning provided a tidy summation of the Giants’ 7-0 win over the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.
In the top of the fourth, Atlanta’s Jace Peterson broke from second base on a ground ball hit in front of him to the left side of the infield. He tried to hurdle the ball -- and it hit him in the leg for an out that ended the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija broke from second on a single to center field by Denard Span. Nearing home plate just as Ender Inciarte’s throw arrived from center, Samardzija hopped over the ball -- the former Notre Dame receiver clearing it easily -- and crossed home safely with a run.
The Giants, returning home after an intense series against the Dodgers, easily dispatched the hapless Braves, the National League’s worst team. Then they watched as the Dodgers blew a ninth-inning lead and lost 6-4 to the N.L.-best Chicago Cubs, closing their gap in the West to just one game.
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Samardzija navigated early traffic to throw seven scoreless innings. The Giants staked him to a five-run lead after two innings, with Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan all driving in two runs in the game. Shortstop Brandon Crawford could use the game as his personal defensive highlight reel.
"The rest of the way we need to pitch well, we need to catch the ball and get those timely hits," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We played very, very well tonight on both sides."
They might have looked better contrasted against the Braves, who made three errors and other miscues not tallied in the box score. Atlanta put five runners on base in the first two innings against Samardzija but failed to score. Inciarte doubled to start the game but inexplicably broke for third on a grounder hit right in front of him to Crawford, who threw him out easily at third. After a Freddie Freeman double put runners on second and third, Samardzija struck out Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis to escape.
The Giants took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Belt and two-run double from Panik, both with two outs. The Braves then loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the second. But Samardzija got pitcher Joel De La Cruz to hit a grounder to Belt, who threw home for an out, then struck out Inciarte. Adonis Garcia hit a line drive on the screws, but Crawford reached up and snagged it to end the inning.
"He kept his concentration and his poise and found a way to get out of it," Bochy said. "That saved the game probably at that point for us."
The rest of the night was comparably smooth for Samardzija, who did not allow another runner past second base while throwing 107 pitches. It continued a mini-run for the right-hander, who has a 1.75 ERA over his last five starts. After throwing 40 pitches in the first two innings, he needed just 67 to complete the next five. What changed?
"Just made ’em hit it to Crawford mostly," Samardzija said. "That’s the game plan."
Along with snaring Garcia’s liner, Crawford made a diving play to rob Kemp of a hit in the fifth inning and ended the sixth by bare-handing Dansby Swanson’s slow roller and throwing the Braves rookie out at first.
"It’s unbelievable, man," Samardzija said. "A couple times tonight I was just expecting to be in the stretch and he comes out of nowhere and makes a play … Things like that as a pitcher just save pitches and allow you to pitch deep into a game."
Samardzija cited the charging play on Swanson as Crawford’s best of the night.
"That kid can run, and that was an amazing play," Samardzija said. "He made it look easy too. There was no waiting. He just grabbed it and threw it."
Samardzija showed he can run, too, on his trip around the bases in the fourth. With two outs, he lined a loud double off the base of the left-field wall that MLB’s Statcast tool estimated at 109 mph leaving the bat. He then sprinted home without hesitation as Span grounded a single up the middle, scoring to give the Giants a 6-0 lead.
"You want to give those guys the same effort that they give you in the field," the former wide-out said. "If I can bust my butt and get the guy an RBI and add another run in the game, I’m going to do it. I enjoy playing the game. I love the fact the National League doesn’t have a DH. I think it’s real baseball and it’s part of the game."
Span’s was one of five hits in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position for the Giants, who are batting .321 in those situations in their last nine games after struggling mightily in that area out of the All-Star Break. They entered the game having scored the fewest first-inning runs (44) in the majors this season and delivered three for the first time since May 28 in Colorado.
They did so with Hunter Pence sidelined by tightness in his surgically repaired hamstring. Pence said before the game he considers himself day-to-day, and hoped he would be "ready to rock" by Saturday.
"We need those guys going now that Pence is out," Bochy said. "I’d put him at day-to-day right now. Meanwhile we’ve got to hopefully pick it up somewhere else and those guys did a great job today of doing that."