This is the kind of game the Cubs expect Jeff Samardzija to take control and cruise to a victory.
The offense staked the Cubs' ace to a 5-0 lead off two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, but Samardzija failed to hold off the Philadelphia Phillies in a 6-5 loss Friday afternoon during Ryne Sandberg's managerial debut at Wrigley Field.
Samardzija gave up eight hits and walked two batters while surrendering five runs in 6.2 innings, receiving a no-decision in the process.
"Jeff did a great job, but couldn't catch a break," catcher Dioner Navarro said. "It was a tough one today for us."
Samardzija was rolling through five innings, allowing just two baserunners, but the wheels came off in the sixth. Pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen lined a shot up to straight-away center field that just glanced off the glove of Junior Lake, resulting in a leadoff triple.
"Tough break there. Junior was trying to make a play," Navarro said. "We went through the lineup the first and second time pretty nice, but they started making adjustments and did a good job laying off [Samardzija's] pitches and trying to hit their pitches."
The Phillies followed Frandsen's triple with three straight hits as Samardzija struggled his third time through the lineup.
"He was stellar for five innings," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "It just kind of got away from him there and he started misfiring."
The Cubs would like to see more consistency out of Samardzija, whom Sveum labeled the team's "big horse." A lot has changed for the 6-foot-5, 225-pound righty in the last few years, but in a way, things are much the same now as they were in 2010.
That season, Samardzija was shuttling back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A Iowa, where Sandberg was the manager. Samardzija was just a 25-year-old kid then, without a big-league pedigree attached to his name.
He's 28 now, but is still trying to figure things out and searching for the consistency that will propel him to an elite level.
After getting shelled in Philadelphia Aug. 8 for his worst career start (11 hits, nine earned runs in 3.1 innings) -- back when Charlie Manuel was the Phillies manager and Sandberg was still a third-base coach -- and surrendring four runs against the Reds on Aug. 13, Samardzija strung together two straight dominant starts. He limited the Nationals to one run in a complete-game victory before shutting down the Padres last weekend, allowing only two runs in eight innings.
"There's a lot of different factors that play into it," Samardzija said. "I'm happy with how my walks have been these last three or four starts. It's right there. Just a pitch here and a pitch there.
"I'm still doing my work in between starts. Everything's how I want it to be. I enjoy how the ball's coming out. I feel good with all my pitches. I like where I'm at. Just a couple times [the Phillies] put the bat on the ball and I need to be more selective with my pitches and pitch location."
Friday's contest drove Samardzija's ERA up to 4.13 he carries a 1.32 WHIP. His next start will represent a new career high and he's already surpassed his previous mark in innings pitched.
Last year at this time, the only talk surrounding the former Notre Dame football star was about his innings limit and impending shutdown.
This year, he's poised for his first 200-inning season and hoping to live up to his workhorse label.
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"I'm excited. The end of the season is always important," Samardzija said. "It's a good way to put an exclamation point on your year and really leave the field happy with your body of work.
"It's always good to finish strong. Anything else doesn't feel good with all the hard work you put in in the offseason and during the year.
"You don't want to let it slip away, so you keep working and keep doing what you're supposed to be doing and finish strong and really carry that momentum into the offseason and spring training."