Cubs blow big lead but beat Diamondbacks 7-6 in 12 innings
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOENIX — If Jeff Samardzija has shown anything since becoming a full-fledged member of the Cubs’ rotation, it’s that he’s a big-game pitcher — however “big game” might be defined during these rebuilding times.
“I like when he’s fired up. Every time he’s been fired up in a big start, he’s performed,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said over the weekend. “We’ve got to find that happy medium, or just find that guy that every game is like Opening Day to him.”
Friday in Denver? It was the Cubs’ second-half opener, and Samardzija dominated.
Wednesday night in Phoenix? Walks killed his pitch count, kept him in trouble all night and ended his outing before he could get out of the sixth inning.
Samardzija’s replacement, rookie Blake Parker, quickly gave up a three-run homer to Paul Goldschmidt in the sixth. Closer Kevin Gregg blew a one-run lead in the ninth.
But in the 12th, Nate Schierholtz delivered his career-high fifth RBI of the night with a double to left field that drove home Anthony Rizzo from first, and the Cubs won 7-6.
“It’s a long season, and [it’s about] keeping your team in the game, keeping them right there to win,” he said, “regardless of whether that’s giving up one on that day or keeping them to only scoring five. There’s a lot of different situations in different games.
“You don’t always have your best stuff. And that’s what the learning process for me has been last year and still is in part this year — learning how to pitch around some days when you don’t necessarily have your best stuff or not feeling the best as what you normally feel.”
Samardzija walked five and needed 118 pitches to get through 5 2/3 innings Wednesday, loading the bases in the first, fourth and fifth.
He pitched around enough trouble to take a 6-2 lead into the sixth inning. But not well enough to keep the ball out of the bullpen’s hands long enough to get a win.
So what about that Samardzija Adrenaline Trend? And how does he solve it, if that’s even the issue?
In five of his 22 starts dating to last year’s anger-fueled final game against Pittsburgh, after which he got shut down for a predetermined innings limit, Samardzija is 5-0 with a 1.08 ERA and an average of 8 1/3 innings pitched.
That included the Pittsburgh game, this year’s first and second-half openers, his start against the White Sox on the South Side and his one start this year against division-leading St. Louis.
In the 17 other starts, including his no-decision Wednesday, he’s 5-13 with a 4.92 ERA and an average of six innings.
“I think with the White Sox game, with Opening Day, it got a little more attention than it deserved,” said Samardzija, who admitted after that Sox game that “sometimes you can lull me to sleep with other games that aren’t that important.”
“For me to say I don’t enjoy pitching in those games more would be a lie,” he says now. “I really do enjoy pitching in big games and big times. That’s what it’s all about. That’s when you need to be at your best.”
But he says he doesn’t perceive an adrenaline difference or difference in preparation for the any other games.
“You go out every game no matter who you’re playing or what time it is in the year or situation. You approach every game the same,” he said. “Every ballgame is an opportunity to get a victory. For anything other than that to be going on is wrong.
“Subconsciously, are there some games that you’re more excited about because it’s different circumstances? Of course. That’s just being an athlete and being a competitor.”