SAN FRANCISCO — Michael Wacha had been there before, and beyond. Three times in his career, in fact. So he knew what he was seeing from Jack Flaherty for six innings Sunday.
“Oh, my gosh, I thought he had it, said Wacha, who twice in his career has taken no-hitters into the ninth inning and a postseason no-hitter into the eighth. “I thought we were going to see something real special.
“He got unlucky with that one hanging slider. He still pitched unbelievable.”
Cardinals teammate Flaherty, looking every bit an ace even though he hasn’t won a game in some two months, roared through 6 1/3 hitless innings Sunday before San Francisco’s Evan Longoria launched a slider into the left-field seats for his 12th homer of the season. Suddenly, it was all over. The no-hitter. The shutout. The game.
Longoria’s homer was the only run tallied at Oracle Park.
Cardinals catcher Matt Wieters has had pitchers take no-hitters for 8 2/3 innings.
“I was thinking about it fairly early,” Wieters said. “After the second (inning), you knew he was working with a good arsenal."
Flaherty needed only 83 pitches to traverse seven innings. But he didn’t win for his ninth consecutive start.
“When I’m on the attack, good things are going to happen,” said the 23-year-old who had failed to make it through five innings in three of his past five starts. The last on was emotional, just a day after the death of his good friend, Angels lefthander Tyler Skaggs.
“He looked like he had a little point to prove,” Wacha said. “It’s what we needed today, for sure.”
Flaherty’s performance, in which he gave up two hits, was the first time in six games that a Cardinals starter had recorded an out after the fifth inning.
But, despite a double by Flaherty himself, the offense was unable to help him even though the Cardinals hit five balls hard in the seventh inning off Jeff Samardzija. But they only had two singles to show for it in the inning. Giants center fielder Kevin Pillar robbed Paul Goldschmidt of at least a run-scoring double with a diving catch in right center.
“I knew it had a chance,” Goldschmidt. “I saw Pillar closing on it and I was hoping he wouldn’t get there. But you know how good he is and he make a great play.”
Sometimes, there is no justice in baseball.
“It falls in that category,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said.
He called Flaherty “fantastic, exceptional. There’s a lot of superlatives you can use. Really tremendous stuff. We’ve seen that of him, but that was as consistent as he’s been all year. One swing of the bat changes the complexion of the game.
“Jack more than did his part. He was imposing his will.”
Flaherty had a certain swagger, a presence, that he hasn’t always displayed.
“I just needed to get myself together,” he said. “Taking adjustments from the first half and trying to put it all in one game. It’s more a mentality thing. Today was the best I’ve felt in regard to that.”
He said he knew he had a no-hitter working.
“I feel like anybody who says he doesn’t know is lying,” Flaherty said. “I know. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about staying in the moment, forgetting everything else and focusing on making that next pitch.”
The key pitch to Longoria, was “a mistake,” Flaherty said. “He didn’t miss it. A slider down the middle.”
Samardzija gained his sixth win but knew he had been in a fight with Flaherty.
“I've faced him twice. I was well aware of his stuff,” Samardzija said. “The kid is going to do well. He's going to make a ton of money in this game if he keeps doing what he's doing, exactly what he did out there today.
“That was impressive to watch. I had a good view of it there a couple of times. It wasn't very fun,” Samardzija added.
The Cardinals enter the All Star break at .500, just where they had been after the first two games of the season even though they climbed to 10 over on May 1.
They remained two games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the jam-packed National League Central Division, in which four teams are within 2½ games of the lead.
Are they are a .500 team?
“No,” said Wacha. “We have not played our baseball that we’re capable of playing. I expect us to come back after this break and start playing our ball and winning a lot more games.”
Shildt went one step deeper. The All-Star break should enable his team to “recharge and get back to be ready to win this division in the second half,” he said. “If do (what Flaherty did) with our starting pitching and the way our offense is coming around and the way we play the rest of the game, we’ll be a dangerous, dangerous team, not only in the regular season but beyond.
“We’re better than our record (44-44) and we all know that — and we’ll prove that in the second half.”
After Longoria’s homer, Flaherty allowed a single by Alex Dickerson off the glove of retreating shortstop Paul DeJong. But he pitched out of that inning and then was pinch-hit for in the eighth with the Cardinals down a run. They stayed down a run.
The shutout of the Cardinals, achieved with four injured regulars out of the lineup, was the fourth time they had been blanked in their past 23 games.
The only batter to reach base in the first four frames was DeJong, with a two-out walk in the first. He was thrown out trying to steal second base.
Yairo Munoz broke up Samardzija’s no-hitter with a liner that nearly undressed the Giants’ pitcher, Charlie Brown-style, with two out in the fifth. Munoz stole second with a headfirst slide but was stranded as Wieters struck out.
Flaherty doubled to left center with one out in the Cards’ sixth. Guilty of some base running errors in recent weeks as a pinch-runner, he alertly tagged up on Tommy Edman’s fly ball and made it to third base on the play. But Flaherty was stranded as Jose Martinez grounded out.
Players scattered in all directions after the game with DeJong headed to Cleveland for the All-Star activities.
“We’re better than this. I know I’m better than this,” the Cardinals’ lone representative to Tuesday’s contest said. “It’s like two steps forward, two steps back lately. We’ve got to find a way to gain ground every day.”