The Pittsburgh Pirates sang along to “Don’t Stop Believin’” late Monday night inside a cramped visiting clubhouse covered in plastic. The empty champagne bottles piled up after a 2-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
That win combined with the Washington Nationals beating the St. Louis Cardinals clinched a playoff berth for the Pirates, who had endured 20 losing seasons and become a joke in a city dominated by the Steelers and the Penguins.
Jeff Samardzija is very good at seeing the big picture, as a Chicago guy and the longest-tenured player in a Cubs uniform, someone who hopped on for the ride with the 2008 team that won 97 games. But it came into sharper focus watching the Pirates and the Atlanta Braves, who won the National League East in the middle of Sunday’s game when the Nationals lost to the Miami Marlins.
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The postgame scenes couldn’t be more different: The Braves smoked cigars and sprayed beers and champagne, trashing the room before the Pirates would do the same thing. Samardzija talked late Sunday afternoon with Nate Schierholtz, who was soaking in the tub and had won two World Series rings with the San Francisco Giants.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Samardzija said after limiting the Pirates to one run in six innings. “That’s why you work in the offseason. That’s why you work hard in spring training. That’s why you want to get off to a fast start in April and May. It’s so you can have those moments.”
Samardzija had visions of establishing himself as a no-doubt No. 1 starter when he dominated the Pirates with eight scoreless innings on Opening Day. The Cubs (65-92) have shipped out 13 players from the 25-man roster they began the season with at PNC Park, building for a future that doesn’t have a clear timeline.
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Samardzija (8-12, 4.33 ERA) is on the clock as an arbitration-eligible player who can become a free agent after the 2015 season. Both sides are expected to make a long-term contract a priority this winter. Even if he’s struggled to find consistency start-to-start and month-to-month, he still has 210 strikeouts in 207.2 innings.
Here’s a list of the other pitchers who’ve already reached 200/200 this year: Clayton Kershaw; Justin Verlander; Cliff Lee; Chris Sale; Adam Wainwright; and Max Scherzer.
Samardzija has the swagger and type of personality the next contending team at Clark and Addison will need. It’s not just the All-American football career at Notre Dame. He has shown enough in big games this season – from Opening Day to beating the Cardinals to complete games against the White Sox and Nationals – that it makes you wonder how he’d perform in October.
“That’s what you want,” Samardzija said. “If you’re here just to play until next year, that’s not what it’s all about. You got to let it all hang out and play for right now. That’s what we need to do and I think we’re getting there. But we need to get some things ironed out and get this team mentally in a spot where that’s what we’re shooting for. (That’s where) we’re not shooting to survive. We’re shooting to win and thrive out there.”