Jeff Samardzija, who was traded to the Oakland Athletics from the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, then started for Oakland on Sunday, left some Oakland fans wishing his name was “Catfish Hunter” or “Bob Welch” when they failed in their attempts to spell his name on signs welcoming him. They’ll just simplify matters and call him “Shark.”
It didn’t matter. Samardzija stifled the Toronto Blue Jays for seven innings, allowing one run and striking out five, as the A’s defeated Toronto 4-2, and completed their first four-game sweep of Toronto since May 22-24, 1981. The victory raised the A’s major-league leading record to 55-33. The crowd gave the pitcher standing ovations during warmups and later when he struck out the side in the seventh inning. After the game, Oakland manager Bob Melvin was excited, too, saying, “It was great to get him off to a good start like that. Terrific performance.”
Samardzija was delighted to go from a team already out of the race to the high-flying A’s, and even more delighted to contribute. He said: “First impressions are always important. Like I said yesterday, they didn’t need me here. They were doing just fine without me. I don’t want to come in and change anything and change the atmosphere. I just want to come in and add and do my part.”
He was also pumped up after the A’s got him an early lead, something that he was unaccustomed to in Chicago, where in 11 of his 17 starts, the Cubs scored two runs or less. With that run support, he had a 2-7 record despite a 2.83 ERA.
Samardzija said of the runs Oakland got him, “It was beautiful, man. That was awesome. Just getting one early run as a pitcher is the best thing ever. You can go out and pound the zone and understand if a guy gets on base so be it. And the way (the A’s) take at-bats is outstanding.”
Samardzija started slowly. In the first inning Toronto had two on with one out when he induced Jose Bautista to ground into a double play. He said after the game, “That was probably one of the biggest pitches of the game for me. It allowed me to relax and then to come out and put a few on the board. I was able to relax and pound the zone.” After that scramble, Samardzija was on fire, retiring 13 of the next 14 batters he faced, finally giving up one run in the seventh on a single by Jose Reyes, a double by Munenori Kawasaki, and a groundout by Melky Cabrera.
Meanwhile, the A’s scored repeatedly. Jed Lowrie had two hits and scored twice, Stephen Vogt singled and tripled, and John Jaso, Nate Freiman, Craig Gentry, and pinch-hitter Derek Norris each had an RBI.
Because of the trade, in which the A’s got got Samardzija and pitcher Jason Hammel for a group of prospects including two of the three most recent A’s first-round draft picks, Samardzija, who was selected for the NL All-Star team as a member of the Cubs, cannot pitch for the NL team. He will be introduced with the NL team, but it is unclear as to whether he will wear a Cubs uniform, an A’s uniform, or a generic NL jersey.
It would have been his first All-Star game appearance, but Samardzija was rather sanguine about the situation. He said, “I won’t get to pitch, which is a bummer, but that’s all right. I’ll just go through whatever ceremonies they have and just jump over to the AL dugout with an NL jersey on and have some fun with the six other dudes we have over there, which is exciting.”
Six A’s were picked for the All-Star Game, the most for the team since 1975, including Sean Doolittle, Scott Kazmir, Norris, Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson, and Yoenis Cespedes. Melvin commented, “It’s really cool. We were hoping for something like this.”