Cubs 3, Pirates 1
Jeff Samardzija began the season as the Chicago Cubs’ No. 1
starter practically by default thanks to injuries to veterans Matt
Garza and Scott Baker.
Don’t expect the quickly improving Samardzija to give up the
spot anytime soon.
The lanky right-hander allowed just two hits and struck out nine
over eight nearly flawless innings as the Cubs held off the
Pittsburgh Pirates 3-1 on Monday for their first opening day
victory in four years.
”He stuck to his game plan,” Chicago manager Dale Sveum said.
”That was probably as good of a game that he’s pitched in his
Samardzija’s only real issue came in the first, when a walk and
an error put two runners on with nobody out. A fielder’s choice and
two strikeouts later Samardzija was out of the jam. At one point he
retired 14 straight batters, almost all of them on strikeouts or
”When they’re making plays behind you it gives you the
confidence to really kind of make stuff up out there, keep the ball
down in the zone and you know they’re going to make some plays for
me like they did all day for me,” Samardzija said.
And the Pirates were only too happy to oblige Samardzija as he
worked both sides of the plate and kept the Pirates off-balance
with a two-seam fastball clocked in the mid-90s and a changeup that
didn’t break 80.
Pittsburgh only managed two balls out of the infield while
Samardzija was on the hill as he improved to 4-0 in his short
career against the Pirates.
”The last two times we’ve seen him, he’s been a beast out
there,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. ”He had command of
everything out of his hand.”
Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer in the first and Wellington
Castillo added an RBI double for the Cubs. Kyuji Fujikawa got the
final out to earn a save in his major league debut after closer
Carlos Marmol struggled.
A.J. Burnett, making the first opening day start of his lengthy
career, gave up three runs on six hits in 5 2-3 innings, striking
out 10. Pittsburgh however began a season of high expectations with
Burnett said it was an honor to get the call in the opener, but
the 15-year veteran showed some nerves early. Castro singled with
one out and Rizzo followed with a towering two-run shot to center
field that landed on the concourse behind the seats for one of the
longest homers in the park’s 13-year history.
The ball left the park so fast even center fielder Andrew
McCutchen – a Gold Glove winner last year – trotted only couple of
steps before stopping.
Rizzo hit just .229 in spring training with just three extra
base hits, but his blast gave the rebuilding Cubs an early shot of
”I don’t really remember the pitch or where I hit it or
whatever,” Rizzo said. ”It was just kind of blacked out there for
a second but it was nice to get the win and get on a good
Chicago threatened to expand the lead in the fourth, putting
runners in scoring position with no outs. Two strikeouts and a
harmless chopper to third ended the threat, but the Pirates could
muster little fight against Samardzija.
It continued a troubling trend at home for the Pirates when
Burnett takes the mound. Pittsburgh failed to score a single run in
Burnett’s final three starts at PNC Park in 2012, part of a
miserable collapse that sent the ballclub to its 20th straight
Burnett couldn’t even catch a break while attempting to keep his
pitching hand dry. The rosin bag literally exploded while he was
tapping it against his hip during the top of the fifth, showering
the back of the pitcher’s mound and Burnett’s leg with dust.
”The pitch to Rizzo and the rosin bag, that was my day,”
Pittsburgh’s offense was just as faulty against Samardzija.
Still, the Cubs nearly gave it away in the ninth when Marmol
came in to wrap things up. It didn’t happen. He hit McCutchen with
one out and McCutchen promptly stole second then scored on Pedro
Alvarez’s single up the middle. Gaby Sanchez followed with a walk,
ending Marmol’s afternoon.
He couldn’t blame Sveum.
”If you’re struggling to get people out, that’s what you have
to do,” Marmol said.
James Russell entered and managed to get Neil Walker to line out
to right before Fujikawa, who had 219 saves in the Japanese League
before arriving in Chicago in the offseason, forced Russell Martin
to pop to center to end it.
”I was thinking about making something special happen,” said
Martin, who was making his Pittsburgh debut after coming over in
the offseason from the New York Yankees. ”I just didn’t get it
Sveum insisted Marmol’s job is not up for grabs, at least at the
”Not making any changes or anything like that,” Sveum said.
”He just didn’t have it today.”
NOTES: Burnett’s 10 strikeouts tied a club record for strikeouts
on opening day. It was accomplished twice before, the last time by
John Candelaria on April 5, 1983 against the St. Louis Cardinals
… The series continues on Wednesday when Wandy Rodriguez (12-13,
3.76 ERA in 2012) faces Chicago’s Edwin Jackson (10-11, 4.03) …
There were snow flurries during batting practice but things
”warmed up” to 41 degrees under sunny skies by first pitch.