CHICAGO – Jeff Samardzija felt he had something to prove. He certainly made his point on the mound.
Samardzija dominated into the ninth, outpitching Jordan Zimmermann, and the Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 4-3 Sunday for their first win of the Theo Epstein era.
Samardzija (1-0) made it clear he wanted a spot in the rotation and was simply spectacular in his sixth career start, giving up four hits and an earned run. The former Notre Dame pitcher and receiver struck out eight without a walk as the Cubs shook off the two wrenching losses that started the season.
I’ve talked a good game about wanting to start and made it public, Samardzija said. I didn’t want to look like an idiot.
Instead, he made the Nationals look bad, and the Cubs came away with the win after some late drama.
There were no bullpen meltdowns this time after Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol failed to hold late leads in each of the first two games, but things certainly got interesting in the ninth.
Ryan Zimmerman reached when Starlin Castro bounced a throw to first after fielding a two-out grounder to shortstop.
Samardzija stayed in after a visit from manager Dale Sveum – who was booed when he came out and cheered when he went back to the dugout – and Adam LaRoche drilled his second two-run homer in two games, sending a drive to the seats in right that cut it to 4-3.
Marmol came in and walked Jayson Werth before Xavier Nady fouled out to Castro near the third base dugout to end the game for his first save.
(Samardzija’s) developed pitches over the last couple years with that cutter, and now, he’s got that split, said catcher Steve Clevenger, who caught Samardzija in the minors. He can throw it any time and any count. It makes him tough on hitters.
The Nationals certainly were impressed.
He had three good pitches and he was out there grinding, Ian Desmond said. He was anywhere from 98 (mph) to 90 with his fastball and had his split, the occasional cut. He was out there, he was pumping strikes.
Alfonso Soriano drove in two runs, with a sacrifice fly in the fourth and run-scoring single off Zimmermann (0-1) in the sixth to give Chicago a 2-1 lead after Washington tied it in the top half.
Castro had two hits, scored twice and stole two bases. He doubled in a run off Ryan Mattheus and scored on Ian Stewart’s single in a two-run eighth.
The Cubs brought in Epstein as president of baseball operations hoping he can help them capture their first championship since 1908 after he put together two title-winning teams in Boston, ending an 86-year drought.