Throughout most of the second half, the San Francisco Giants have been cursed by black magic rather than blessed by the strange magic that led them to World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

But if Saturday is any indication, they may finally have a handle on that strange magic once again.

Once the St. Louis Cardinals dispatched the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier Saturday afternoon, the Giants knew they needed a win over the Los Angeles Dodgers to keep their one-game lead for the National League‘s second wild card spot. With Clayton Kershaw opposing Ty Blach in just the second start of his major league career, the odds scoffed and said, “Yeah, right.”

Cue the Giants coasting to a relatively easy 3-0 victory, much to the delight of the 40,000 or so fans packed into AT&T Park.

The Giants didn’t put a hurting on Kershaw. Angel Pagan sure did when he opened the scoring by taking the three-time Cy Young winner over the wall in left in the fifth inning. But that was one of only two earned runs the Giants netted off Kershaw in his seven innings. 

The other came in the seventh when Pagan scored from first base after Justin Turner picked up an infield dribbler by Brandon Crawford and chucked it up the right field line. Crawford landed on third base as a result of that and came home on a sacrifice fly by the newly acquired Gordon Beckham.

If this sequence sounds oddly familiar, that’s because it’s a sequence that’s just so very Giants.

Whether it’s Hunter Pence hitting a bases-clearing double on a broken bat or having a sacrifice bunt turned into a walk-off, weird runs just seem to happen for the Giants whenever the pressure is at its highest. Some of that is them being really good at putting the ball in play, thereby frequently finding themselves in spots where anything can happen. Otherwise, it’s just…well, strange magic.

Whatever the case, another staple of the Giants’ even-year runs is them getting unlikely boosts from unheralded young players. Blach became the latest to abide by that tradition on Saturday.

Although Kershaw didn’t pitch poorly in Saturday’s contest, there’s no denying he got out-pitched by the Giants’ rookie left-hander. Blach logged eight shutout innings, allowing only three hits and a walk with six strikeouts.

“We just couldn’t figure him out,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said afterward, via’s Ken Gurnick and Chris Haft.

No kidding. Blach gave the Dodgers pitches to hit, throwing first-pitch strikes to 20 of 27 batters and, as Brooks Baseball shows, rarely going outside the strike zone in general in throwing 67 of his 99 pitches for strikes. But he was deceptive from start to finish, working all sides of the zone with his four-seamer and sinker and getting hitters off-balance with his changeup and slider.

Like Crawford, Joe Panik and Matt Duffy before him, Blach didn’t arrive in the San Francisco spotlight by way of the upper crust of Major League Baseball prospects. Baseball America had the 25-year-old Creighton alum ranked No. 20 in just the Giants’ system coming into the year, remarking that he “has a ceiling as a No. 5 starter, but he still has plenty to prove.”

But after struggling with a 4.46 ERA for Triple-A Sacramento last year, Blach found his groove with a 3.43 ERA for Sacramento this year. It could turn out to be just one great start in the long run, but right now his victorious duel against Kershaw looks more like an exclamation point on a breakthrough season.

“Getting to watch that was pretty incredible,” Giants ace Madison Bumgarner said, via Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. “He was lights out the whole day going against one of the best pitchers in baseball. It was definitely something he will never forget.”

Meanwhile, the Giants are not yet out of the woods. Or into the woods, for that matter.

Saturday’s stunner did accomplish one thing: it ensured the Giants will play at least 163 games this season. They haven’t yet clinched a spot in the wild card play-in game on Wednesday at the New York Mets. But should they lose game No. 162 on Sunday while the Cardinals win, the Giants will get a shot at a play-in game for the play-in game on Monday.

A win on Sunday and a trip straight to New York, however, is certainly a possibility. The Giants have outscored the Dodgers 12-3 in the first two games of the series and will be going for the sweep with Matt Moore on the mound. He struck out 11 his last time out.

And in general, the bad times that have forced a 29-42 record on the Giants in the second half seem to be fading. They’ve won three in a row and four out of five. An offense that had been a ball and chain on one ankle and a bullpen that had been a ball and chain on the other ankle are shaping up. The Giants offense entered Saturday’s game with an .895 OPS in the last week. Their bullpen has a 2.65 ERA in that same span.

The Giants haven’t taken the easy road to the doorstep of the postseason, but they couldn’t have picked a better time to start looking more like their usual even-year selves. They’re in a position to get in, and we know what they can do once they get that far.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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