You had to read Jeff Samardzija’s lips on TV, but it sure looked like: “(Bleepin’) (bleep!)” Samardzija punching his glove and talking to himself could be the highlight reel to sum up his season.
Samardzija did everything he could for the Cubs on Monday at Wrigley Field and it still wasn’t enough in a 3-1 loss to the White Sox that took 12 innings and lasted almost four hours.
What a way to go out if this is The End for Samardzija and a crosstown rivalry that will miss another high-wattage personality after losing Ozzie Guillen, Lou Piniella, Carlos Zambrano and A.J. Pierzynski in recent years.
Samardzija gave up one unearned run in nine innings, showing why he will help a playoff contender this summer. He threw a career-high 126 pitches on a night where it was 41 degrees at first pitch, with 12 mph winds blowing out of the northeast, thinning out an announced crowd of 33,146. Samardzija broke up Jose Quintana’s no-hit bid in the sixth inning and scored his team’s only run. He lowered his ERA to 1.62 and still hasn’t won a game since Aug. 24, 2013.
At the age of 29, after all the ups and downs since coming out of Notre Dame, Samardzija is finally coming into his own, while the Cubs are an 11-19 team, stuck in last place with no competitive timeline.
“You do your job,” Samardzija said. “I’m just going out and doing my job, trying to do my part to win a ballgame. I can’t control things on the outside. It’s not my job. Every fifth day is my job. That’s what I’m going to continue to do.
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“Regardless of the situation or where I’m at, I always will go out and do my job on the fifth day. No matter how I feel or anything like that, I’m going to leave it out there. (So) nothing changes. We need to play a little bit better.”
Samardzija wasn’t looking at the big picture after making a bare-hand, over-the-shoulder catch when Dayan Viciedo bounced a ball over his head in the fourth inning. Samardzija turned and made a low throw that bounced away from Anthony Rizzo’s glove, snapping the first baseman’s 56-game errorless streak.
Last time you had a catch like that?
“Uh, probably in the Sugar Bowl,” Samardzija said. “For a touchdown, of course.”
That moment of frustration didn’t cost Samardzija. Neither did the fifth-inning pitch that sailed by catcher Welington Castillo for a passed ball. Samardzija began to move his arms and raised his palms, as if to say: “Dude?”
“He knows what’s at stake,” Rizzo said. “He’s seeing everyone get all these megadeals. He’s very close. He can smell it. I think it should be here, but that’s not my call. He doesn’t really talk about it. He just comes in, does his work.”
Cubs officials hate this comp, but when Homer Bailey re-upped with the Cincinnati Reds and signed a six-year, $105 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds in spring training, it changed the game again for Samardzija, showing how the price of pitching just keeps exploding.
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It’s not a matter of Samardzija pitching lights-out and showing the front office he’s worth the money now. It’s whether or not this will be a bitter divorce at the trade deadline, if the Cubs can take the next steps in their rebuilding process and show they’ll be contenders when he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season.
In the meantime, Samardzija continues to live up to his reputation as a big-game pitcher. He threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout on the South Side last May. He’s thrown 16 consecutive scoreless innings on Opening Day across the last two years.
“(It’s) seeing how (Ryan) Dempster handled it, how (Alfonso) Soriano handled it, all the guys that were supposed to get traded,” Rizzo said. “He’s been doing a good job of just coming in and doing his work and focusing on playing baseball and winning games. Instead of ‘Oh, what am I doing here today?’ Some guys are like: ‘Oh, I’m getting traded today’ and this and that. You can read it however you want, but he’s done a good job of blocking it out.”
Samardzija struck out the side swinging in the sixth inning – Gordon Beckham, Jose Abreu, Adam Dunn – and then broke up the no-hitter when he slammed a double to the left-field wall.
“I just swing hard every time. If you see my BP, there’s really no mental approach whatsoever,” Samardzija said. “As a pitcher, you just kind of go up there and wish for the best.”
Bad luck keeps following Samardzija, who scored on Junior Lake’s sacrifice fly to left field. Samardzija hit 95 mph on the radar gun in the seventh and eighth innings and pumped his fist after getting a double play to end the ninth.
“Gritty. Gutsy. Everything you could ask for,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We wanted that game for him. We just couldn’t pull it out.”