Jeff Samardzija showed the kind of dominance on the mound that led him to choose baseball after being an All-American receiver for Notre Dame in 2006. After several years of bouncing between the minors and the major league bullpen, Samardzija put together a solid 2012 as a starter and then was utterly dominant as the Opening Day starter Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Samardzija was expected to try to copy Bo Jackson and play in both the NFL and MLB out of Notre Dame in 2006, but the Cubs convinced him to forgo the NFL Draft and put his seven pitches to use–including an upper-90s fastball. Monday he went eight shutout innings, allowing only two hits and a walk while baffling Pirates hitters for nine strikeouts. After being removed, he had to watch nervously as Carlos Marmol failed to nail down the save and had to get help from two additional relievers once he allowed the Pirates’ first run and put the winning run at the plate with only one out and a 3-1 lead.
Marmol struck out Garrett Jones swinging to start the ninth with a 3-0 lead. However, he then hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch, and McCutchen stole second base and scored on a Pedro Alvarez single up the middle to end the shutout. Marmol was relieved after issuing a walk to put the winning run at the plate with only one out.
Lefty James Russell came in to get Neil Walker to flyout to right, and then Kyuji Fujikawa induced Russell Martin to flyout to center to get the save by preserving the Cubs win, 3-1.
The Cubs gave Samardzija all the support he needed in the top of the first inning when Anthony Rizzo drilled a homer over the center field fence with one out to score along with Starlin Castro to make it 2-0 Cubs.
Samardzija started out shaky, walking Starling Marte. He then induced a grounder by Garrett Jones, but an error by Brent Lillibridge (who was later replaced by Alberto Gonzalez at second base) put men on first and second, and then McCutchen hit a slow grounder to third that put two men in scoring position with only one out. However, Samardzija then became overpowering, striking out the next two batters, and after giving up a leadoff single in the second inning, he took over, retiring 21 of the next 22 batters before being relieved after the eighth inning.