Samardzija Fools the Pirates on Opening Day – Cubs 3, Pirates 1

Game One – Cubs 3, Pirates 1

WP – Jeff Samardzija (1-0) LP – A.J. Burnett (0-1) Save – Kyuji Fujikawa (1)

wflag-pubThe Cubs started the 2013 season on a positive note with a 3-1 victory over the Pirates on Monday afternoon, the first win on Opening Day for the Cubs since 2009.

Jeff Samardzija dominated the Pirates over eight shutout innings. Samardzija settled down after the opening inning and allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out nine batters. Samardzija kept the Pirates guessing all afternoon as the Battin’ Bucs made very little solid contact. Just as impressive as the nine strikeouts was that Samardzija recorded 13 groundball outs … and not a single flyball out. Samardzija retired 14 in a row at one point and 16 of the last 17 batters he faced.

Jeff Samardzija’s final line: no runs on two hits with a walk and nine strikeouts on 110 pitches, 71 for strikes … Monday’s performance was very similar to Samardzija’s first start a year ago.

Carlos Marmol started the ninth but was pulled before he could record three outs and a save. Marmol gave up a run on one hit, a walk and a hit batsman after striking out the first batter he faced. James Russell replaced Marmol with the tying run on first base and one down. Russell retired Neil Walker and Dale Sveum brought in Kyuji Fujikawa to get the 27th out. Russell Martin popped Fujikawa’s second pitch into center to end the game.

The Cubs’ offense did just enough against A.J. Burnett and the Pirates’ staff. Anthony Rizzo (1-for-4 with a home run and two RBI) crushed the first pitch he saw from A.J. Burnett in the opening inning and gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead. Rizzo’s bomb traveled an estimated 438 feet … his first homer in a Cubs’ uniform this year.

Starlin Castro (2-for-4 with a run and a stolen base) was on board for Rizzo’s longball while Welington Castillo (2-for-4 with two doubles and a RBI) doubled in Nate Schierholtz (1-for-2 with a run scored, a walk, a hit by pitch and a stolen base) with the Cubs’ third run in the sixth inning. Schierholtz reached base in all four plate appearances.

A.J. Burnett became the first Pirates’ Opening Day starter since John Candelaria in 1983 to strike out 10 batters on Opening Day. The Cubs made Burnett work, knocked him out in the sixth inning after throwing 98 pitches, 61 for strikes. The Cubs struck out 15 times on Monday afternoon.

Outside of an error by Brent Lillibridge in the first inning, the Cubs defense was very good. Starlin Castro made several difficult plays look routine and Anthony Rizzo took a hit away from Neil Walker in the seventh with an excellent scoop and throw … probably the hardest hit ball all afternoon off Samardzija. Lillibridge made an outstanding diving stop in the sixth inning that took a hit away from Garrett Jones.

It is always good to see the Cubs win on Opening Day.

The Cubs jumped on A.J. Burnett in the first inning. Starlin Castro notched the Cubs first hit, a single to left center, after DeJesus looked at a 2-2 pitch for the first out. Anthony Rizzo stepped in and crushed Burnett’s first pitch. The ball ended up well beyond the right center field wall and traveled an estimated 438 feet. With the Cubs up 2-0, Soriano grounded out to Walker for the second out. Nate Schierholtz singled to left center (0-1 pitch) before Welington Castillo grounded out to first for the third out.

Jeff Samardzija was obviously amped in the first inning. Samardzija was overthrowing, and walked Starling Marte. Garrett Jones then hit a grounder to Lillibridge in the shift that should have been converted into at least one out. Lillibridge bobbled the ball and the Pirates had runners on first and second with no outs.

Andrew McCutchen grounded a 2-1 pitch toward third. Valbuena fielded and threw to second to force Jones. Lillibridge’s throw to Rizzo was late and low. With runners on first and third with one down, Samardzija struck out Pedro Alvarez and Gaby Sanchez swinging to end the inning. Samardzija threw 22 pitches in the first, 12 for strikes.

Both pitchers settled in after the first inning. Burnett recorded eight straight outs via a strikeout and Samardzija retired the side in order in the third. After three, Samardzija’s pitch count was at a respectable 51 pitches, 34 for counts.

The Cubs squandered a golden opportunity to tack on in the fourth. Nate Schierholtz walked to start the fourth (3-2 pitch). Welington Castillo just missed a home run and had to settle for a double off the wall in right. With runners on second and third and no outs, the Cubs could not make any contact. Burnett struck out both Valbuena and Lillibridge swinging … eight straight outs recorded by Burnett via a strikeout. Jeff Samardzija grounded a 2-0 pitch to Alvarez at third to end the inning. Burnett threw 75 pitches over the first four innings, 47 for strikes.

Jeff Samardzija retired the side in order in the fourth … 63 pitches, 41 for strikes.

The Cubs tacked on in the sixth and knocked Burnett out of the game. Soriano tapped back to Burnett for the first out. Burnett then plunked Nate Schierholtz on a 1-2 pitch in his right leg. Schierholtz took off for second on a 2-1 pitch to Welington Castillo, the second hit and run called by Sveum with the same combination. Castillo drove the 2-1 pitch into the gap in right center. The ball one hopped the wall, Schierholtz scored before Castillo was caught in between second and third in a rundown. Castillo was eventually tagged out. Clint Hurdle made the slow walk with the Cubs up 3-0 and went to his pen for lefty Justin Wilson. Valbuena popped out to center (3-2 pitch) to end the inning.

The Cubs were unable to add on in the seventh and eighth against the Pirates’ pen while Samardzija was busy putting zeros up on the board.

Nate Schierholtz ended up a second in the ninth after he reached on an error and swiped second base … but the Cubs were not able to plate the run. The game went to the bottom of the ninth with the Cubs up 3-0.

Carlos Marmol took over in the ninth and could not get the job done. Marmol was able to get Garrett Jones to chase on a 3-2 pitch for the first out. Marmol then hit Andrew McCutchen on a 1-0 pitch. McCutchen stole second on a 1-0 pitch to Alvarez. Pedro Alvarez drove the next pitch into center. McCutchen scored, 3-1 Cubs. Sveum left Marmol in as James Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa warmed up in the pen.

Marmol walked Gaby Sanchez to put the tying run at first. As Josh Harrison replaced Sanchez at first, Sveum made the slow walk and went to his pen for James Russell. The move turned Neil Walker around. Walker flied out to right (2-2 pitch) for the second out. Sveum went back to his pen for Kyuji Fujikawa.

Russell Martin popped Fujikawa’s second pitch into center. As Fujikawa pumped his fist, David DeJesus hauled it in … game over.

Tuesday is an off day for the Cubs, one of only two over the first five weeks of the season. The season resumes on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, Edwin Jackson against Wandy Rodriguez.

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Quote of the Day

"You can’t sit on a lead and kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game." - Earl Weaver