Samardzija! – Cubs 4, Nationals 3

Game Three – Cubs 4, Nationals 3
WP – Jeff Samardzija (1-0) LP – Jordan Zimmermann (0-1) Save – Carlos Marmol (1)

wflag.jpgAfter back-to-back demoralizing losses to begin the season, Dale Sveum needed a good outing from Jeff Samardzija … and what Sveum ended up getting was just short of a spectacular performance from Jeff Samardzija.

Jeff Samardzija dominated the Washington Nationals on Sunday afternoon. Samardzija allowed one run on three hits in eight innings and took a 4-1 lead into the ninth. If not for a throwing error by Starlin Castro with two outs in the ninth, Samardzija would have tossed a complete game gem. Samardzija ended up having to face one more batter and Adam LaRoche’s second two-run homer of the series made it 4-3 and chased Samardzija from the game.

Carlos Marmol issued a walk to Jayson Werth but got Xavier Nady to foul out to Ian Stewart for the 27th out … and Dale Sveum’s first win as the manager of the Chicago Cubs.

Sunday was all about Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija was brilliant throughout his first start of the season. Samardzija ended up allowing three runs, one earned, on four hits without a walk and eight strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. Samardzija faced only 31 batters and threw first pitch strikes to 25 of them. For the game, Samardzija tossed 110 pitches, 79 for strikes, to an aggressive Nationals’ offense.

The Cubs offense did just enough against Jordan Zimmermann early on and tacked on two runs in the eighth.

Starlin Castro extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a 2-for-4 day at the plate that included a double, two runs scored, a RBI and two stolen bases. Castro has reached base safely in the last 43 games he’s played … and in the first three games, Castro has stolen four bases.

Alfonso Soriano (1-for-2 with two RBI and a sac fly) drove in the Cubs’ first two runs of the game with a sac fly in the fourth and a single in the sixth. Soriano also made an excellent diving catch in the fourth that took away a hit from Adam LaRoche.

Ian Stewart (1-for-4 with a RBI) added a RBI single in the eighth. Stewart made a tremendous diving stop and threw out Jayson Werth from his knees to take away an extra base hit from the Nationals’ right fielder in the seventh.

Bryan LaHair, in his first start of the season, was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles.

The aggressive Cubs’ offense managed only eight hits on Sunday and struggled with RISP (2-for-12 with six left on base) but they continued running and the aggressiveness on the bases led to their first run.

Not only did Dale Sveum pick up his first victory as the Cubs’ skipper but Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were able to see the ‘W‘ flag fly for the first time at Wrigley Field as the head of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs.

After a rough stretch on Sundays for the last several seasons, the Cubs won their first game on Sunday afternoon in 2012 …

The first inning on Easter Sunday started with Ian Desmond ripping a 1-2 pitch down the third base line and into the left field corner. Desmond ended up at second with a double. Jeff Samardzija then retired the next three batters he faced … Espinosa popped out to shallow left center, Zimmerman flied out to right center and LaRoche swung at and missed a 2-2 pitch. Samardzija threw 13 pitches in the first, nine for strikes.

The Cubs did nothing against Jordan Zimmermann in the first.

Jeff Samardzija sat down the Nationals in order in the second … with two swinging strikeouts (Werth and Bernadina). Samardzija threw 26 pitches in first two innings, 19 for strikes.

Jordan Zimmermann made quick work of the Cubs in the second (five pitches) Zimmermann retired the first six Cubs on 14 pitches, 11 for strikes.

The Nationals did nothing against Samardzija in the third … after three Samardzija’s pitch count stood at 36, 27 for strikes, and he threw first pitch strikes to nine of the first 10 hitters.

After Marlon Byrd swung at and hit the first pitch from Zimmermann to first to begin the third (four outs on six pitches at that point for Zimmermann), Steve Clevenger worked the count to 2-1 and dumped a single into left center … the Cubs’ first hit. Samardzija dropped down a bunt, Clevenger advanced to second but David DeJesus lined out to second to end the inning.

The Nationals did nothing against Samardzija in the fourth … Samardzija retired Washington in order with a little help from a diving catch by Alfonso Soriano in left center that took away a hit from Adam LaRoche.

Samardzija threw 45 pitches over four innings, 33 for strikes.

The Cubs finally got on the board in the fourth … and they ran themselves into the first run of the game.

Darwin Barney ripped a 2-1 pitch back through the box. Zimmermann stopped the ball with his body and threw out Barney at first.

Starlin Castro extended both of his streaks to 14 and 43 respectively with a solid single to center. Castro took off for second on the first pitch to Soriano. Ramos misplayed the ball and Castro ended up at third on a passed ball. Alfonso Soriano lifted the next pitch into left, Castro tagged and scored … 1-0 Cubs. Stewart struck out swinging (2-2 pitch) for the third out of the inning.

The Nationals did nothing against Samardzija in the fifth. At that point Samardzija had retired 15 in a row and his pitch count stood at 53, 38 for strikes.

The Cubs wasted a chance to tack on in the bottom of the fifth.

Bryan LaHair ripped the first pitch he saw into right for a double. Marlon Byrd grounded out to second on the first pitch, LaHair ended up at third and Davey Johnson brought his infield in. Steve Clevenger lined the first pitch toward left center but Ian Desmond made a leaping catch and took away a hit from Clevenger. With LaHair still at third, Samardzija struck out swinging to end the inning.

Wilson Ramos led off the sixth with the Nationals’ second hit of the game. Ramos drove Samardzija’s first pitch into right and Zimmermann sacrificed him to second. Desmond ripped the first pitch into right. Ramos held at third with one out.

Danny Espinosa pulled a 1-2 pitch into deep right. Ramos tagged and scored … game tied at one. Samardzija struck out Ryan Zimmerman swinging on three pitches to end the sixth … 65 pitches for Samardzija after six, 49 for strikes.

The Cubs took the lead right back in the bottom of the sixth … and if not for a diving catch by Roger Bernadina it would have been more than a single run.

David DeJesus flied out to left to start the sixth. Darwin Barney pulled a 1-1 pitch into the left field corner for a double. Starlin Castro ripped a 0-1 pitch into left center. Roger Bernadina made an excellent head-long diving catch to take away at least a double from Castro … and a run from the Cubs. Barney read the play well and tagged from second and advanced to third.

With two down and Barney on third, Alfonso Soriano reached out and pulled a 1-2 pitch into left. Barney trotted home with the Cubs’ second run. Stewart struck out swinging on three pitches to end the sixth. Zimmermann threw only 61 pitches, 45 for strikes, in the first six innings.

With more help from his defense, Samardzija retired the Nationals in order in the seventh. Samardzija struck out LaRoche looking on a 3-2 pitch after being behind in the count 2-1, one of the few times Samardzija was behind in the count through the first seven innings. Ian Stewart robbed Jayson Werth of an extra basehit with a diving stop toward the line … Stewart threw out Werth from his knees.

Bryan LaHair put together a long, patient at bat that ended with a double to the right field corner (3-2 pitch). Marlon Byrd tried to bunt LaHair to third but popped up the 1-0 offering to Ramos in foul ground (Byrd made three outs, one productive, in his first three at bats on four pitches). Clevenger struck out swinging and Samardzija popped out to second (3-2 pitch) to end the inning.

Jeff Samardzija retired Washington in order in the eighth … and struck out Chad Tracy swinging to end the inning. After eight innings, Samardzija’s pitch count stood at 90, 65 for strikes.

Davey Johnson went to his pen in the eighth and brought in Ryan Mattheus. David DeJesus worked a walk to begin the inning. Darwin Barney flied out to a stumbling Xavier Nady on the second straight hit and run called by Dale Sveum. DeJesus made it back to first safely after he had rounded second.

Starlin Castro ripped a 0-1 pitch into left center. Castro split the gap and DeJesus scored from first with the Cubs’ third run. On a 2-0 pitch to Soriano, Castro took off for third. Ramos’ throw beat Castro to the bag but Zimmerman could not hold onto the ball. Castro swiped his second bag of the day … and fourth of the series.

The Nationals ended up issuing ball four to Soriano and Johnson went back to his pen for lefty Sean Burnett.

Ian Stewart stayed in and punched a 1-2 pitch into center. Castro scored and the Cubs took a 4-1 lead. Soriano held at third with one out. LaHair struck out swinging (2-2 pitch) and Byrd lined back to Burnett to end the inning.

The Cubs went to the ninth with a 4-1 lead.

Jeff Samardzija retired Ian Desmond on a routine grounder to second (2-2 pitch) to begin the ninth. Danny Espinosa struck out looking (2-2 pitch) and Ryan Zimmerman hit a grounder to short on a 0-2 pitch. Castro rushed his throw, threw low and LaHair could not scoop. What should have been the game ender and a complete game, extended the inning.

Sveum made the slow walk and talked to Samardzija and his infield after the error. Samardzija stayed in and tried to complete what he started.

Adam LaRoche launched a 2-2 pitch over the wall in right. Just like that the Cubs had a one-run lead (4-3) and Sveum went to his pen.

Carlos Marmol walked Jayson Werth on five pitches but was able to retire Xavier Nady on a foul out to Ian Stewart (1-2 pitch) to end the game.

Box Score from Yahoo Sports

The Cubs open a four-game series with the Brewers at Wrigley on Monday night … Chris Volstad against Shaun Marcum in the opener.

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