Samardzija locks down elusive first victory
Right-hander strikes out 10, knocks RBI double to help sink Giants
SAN FRANCISCO -- Beer showers are usually reserved for rookies after they accomplish a big league milestone, like a first save. On Monday after pitching in his 200th career game, Jeff Samardzija received an unexpected, but very welcome, dousing of Bud Light by his teammates when he picked up his first win of the season.
"They ambushed me," Samardzija said, still wearing his beer-soaked clothes. "It smells great."
Samardzija struck out 10, hit an RBI double, scored the go-ahead run, and ended a personal 16-game winless streak with the Cubs' 8-4 victory Monday over the first-place Giants.
Nate Schierholtz hit his first homer of the season and Darwin Barney drove in two runs as Samardzija won for the first time since last Aug. 24. The right-hander limited the Giants to six hits over seven-plus innings, and it's the sixth time in his career he's fanned at least 10. Cubs manager Rick Renteria let Samardzija start the eighth, but as soon as leadoff batter Angel Pagan singled on pitch No. 109, that was it.
"It was nice to get him the first win before June," said Barney, part of the sudsy shower, Samardzija's first since his rookie year when he picked up his first save, July 27, 2008. "I think it was on his mind a little more than he put out just by how happy he was today and the fashion that it went down."
Samardzija entered the game with the lowest ERA through the first 10 starts of a season by any pitcher who didn't have a win in Major League history. His ERA is now 1.68, which is second in the Majors to the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright (1.67).
"People try to downplay the record thing, but as a starting pitcher, I think it's important," said Samardzija, who has handled the lack of wins better than anyone. "I care, I want to keep working hard and come out every day and try to get a win. That's all you can do."
The Cubs hadn't given Samardzija much run support, but that changed Monday. Seven of the nine Chicago starters drove in a run, including the pitcher himself.
The game didn't start well as Samardzija dropped a pass from first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who made a diving stop of Giants leadoff man Pagan's grounder. Pagan was safe on the fielding error, and two outs later, scored on Pablo Sandoval's single to right.
"I knew Pagan can run and he was hustling down the line and I hurried myself up," Samardzija said of the play. "It hit me in the palm and popped up."
Schierholtz, who hit a career-high 21 home runs last season, nearly felt as much relief as Samardzija when he tied the game against starter Yusmeiro Petit with a leadoff blast in the Chicago third.
Sandoval gave the Giants a 3-1 lead with a two-run homer in the fourth, the third home run off Samardzija this season.
"I wasn't surprised it went out -- he's got pop," Samardzija said. "He's got dumb pop. He can hit the ball a mile. He hits all pitches. He put a good bat on the ball. I'll remember that for next time."
In the fifth, the Cubs had runners at first and third with one out when Barney hit a sacrifice fly. Samardzija followed with an RBI double to tie the game at 3, and then scored on Emilio Bonifacio's triple.
"I've said before, we count, too, as outs," Samardzija said of pitchers. "Part of it's on your shoulders, too. I got a 2-0 pitch I could handle and put a good hit on it."
The Cubs added on, with Welington Castillo, Barney and Luis Valbuena each hitting RBI singles, and Rizzo adding a run-scoring double. The eight runs are the most the Cubs have scored since May 12, when they totaled 17.
"It's a relief for everybody," Renteria said. "Today there were big contributions by everybody in the ballgame. [Samardzija] certainly helped himself at the plate and gave us a chance to win a ballgame."
Renteria didn't know much about Samardzija before this season, and confessed he hadn't watched him when he played wide receiver at Notre Dame.
"He's just being himself, quite frankly, and has been becoming the pitcher he is now -- a guy with great stuff, a guy who commands the zone, a guy with great temperament on the hill," Renteria said.
You only need to watch Samardzija for one inning to see how competitive he is.
"He gets out on the hill and he's very confident and knows what he has to do," Renteria said. "He's been taking care of what he can control. You can't ask for anything else."
What helped Monday was that all of Samardzija's pitches were sharp, especially his slider.
"He had great stuff," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We were hoping to hold them down, since we knew we would be in a close game with the way he's been throwing the ball. That's why his numbers are what they are, because of the stuff that he has."
What was it like for the Giants' hitters? Hector Sanchez said Samardzija has "gasoline in his arm."
If he was frustrated by the winless streak, Samardzija didn't show it.
"I usually get mad at other things," he said. "I get more mad at myself than bad pitch selections. Throughout the year, I feel I've been happy with how I've been pitching. The ball just hasn't bounced my way. I wanted to keep my composure. You learn a lot about yourself in this game. When you come out of it and do things like this, you feel better with how you handled it."
Said Schierholtz: "It's been very impressive. Not once has he been negative about the run support or not having a win. He's behind the team every day and he works his butt off. We're behind him."
And they made sure to celebrate appropriately.