“When I got my first save or first win,” Samardzija said Monday after earning victory No. 1 on Monday in an 8-4 triumph over the San Francisco Giants. “[Jim] Edmonds made a diving play in left-center and I got my first save, and I probably got trounced after that. That’s when we had some older guys so they were probably a lot meaner than they are now. I’d rather just drink the beer than pour it on me.”
Yes, Monday’s Memorial Day win had a different feel than the other 18 the Cubs have had this season. None until now had featured a “W” next to Samardzija’s name, despite the Cubs ace mowing down hitters to the tune of a 1.46 ERA through his first 10 starts. His plight became the symbol of the Cubs' current futility. No wins, four losses, six no-decisions and a team record of 1-9 in games he’s started. That’s very Cub-like, isn’t it?
“It was nice to get him a win before June,” second baseman Darwin Barney said sarcastically. “I think it was on his mind a little more than he put out by how happy he was today.”
Samardzija never showed the frustration, always reverting to the notion the game will get even with you and things would turn his way. They finally did Monday when the offense, defense and bullpen didn’t let him down for once.
“I usually get mad at other things than the results,” Samardzija said. “I get more mad at myself when I have bad pitch selection and things like that. If you start letting that stuff get to you it’s probably going to snowball on you.”
Despite downplaying it as much as possible, his teammates refused to believe it was just another win -- Samardzija's first since Aug. 24, 2013.
“It was big,” outfielder Nate Schierholtz said. “He deserves to have a lot of wins right now. It was nice to get that one for him. ... He goes out there and battles every start. It means a lot to everyone.”
Schierholtz hit his first home run of the season, and for one day players like himself and Samardzija, who could be on the move later in the season, relished in victory over the best team in the National League. Beer showers don’t happen for many 19-30 outfits.
“We snuck it in on him,” Barney said. “We didn’t wait until he got in the shower because that’s too [obvious].”
Samardzija (1-4) isn’t more likely to be a Cub come August because he won one game. He continues to audition for other teams -- the Giants might be a good fit -- and as good as he has been so far, his game might get even better. His slider was the best he has had this season, with six of his 10 strikeouts coming via that pitch. That’s a career high. And now his full arsenal of pitches is in high gear.
“[Monday] was probably the first day I felt like I had all four of them,” Samardzija said of his fastball, slider, splitter and changeup.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Samardzija had a season-high 20 swings and misses Monday, including 12 on sliders. His movement was so good that Giants hitters swung at 25 pitches outside the strike zone, just one off a career high. And again it was his slider that fooled them the most.
“Once I got them seeing that fastball and getting jumpy on it I was able to get some outs and some strikeouts with that slider,” Samardzija said. “It’s part of pitching, you kind of see what you have that day and go off of it.”
Pablo Sandoval got to him with a home run, but those 10 strikeouts to go along with zero walks helped thwart a Giants’ attack. Before the game, manager Rick Renteria mentioned Samardzija as a possible All-Star pitcher. At this rate, he should be a shoo-in to make the team, if not the game’s starter.
“I’m not a big accolades guy,” Samardzija said. “I’m not a big goals guy outside of 200-plus innings. I don’t set many goals. Your game speaks for yourself.”
Samardzija’s game has been speaking volumes since the beginning of the season. And now he finally has a win to show for it. Plus, he drove in a key run with a double in the fifth inning.
“People try to downplay the whole record thing, but as a starting pitcher I think it’s important,” he said. “This game will tell you a lot about yourself. You just have to keep doing your work. Every start is a new day. The guys played amazingly for me today.”