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CHC@PIT: Samardzija fans nine in complete-game win

PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Samardzija may have finally convinced people he picked the right sport.

Samardzija threw his first career complete game and the first by a Cubs pitcher this season in his final start, notching the win in a 4-3 victory over the Pirates on Saturday at PNC Park.

"That was pretty impressive," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "I think he knew he had 125 pitches to get it done in, and he did it right there."

Alfonso Soriano hit his 27th home run and David DeJesus hit a tie-breaking RBI single in the eighth to back Samardzija, who threw 120 pitches, 81 for strikes. With the win, the Cubs posted their first back-to-back wins on the road since July 23-24, which also came at PNC Park.

Samardzija is done because he's reached his innings limit for the season. The right-hander is not coming off surgery like the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg. This is just a precautionary move in Samardzija's first season as a starter.

He admitted to reflecting on how far he's come when he took the mound for the ninth, and thought about the pressure he put on himself this year to perform.

"I wanted to prove I could be the guy they needed me to be and I didn't want to leave any question marks out there," Samardzija said.

Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: "The guy over there, that's a special arm."

Samardzija (9-13) hopefully ended any further discussion about whether he chose correctly in playing baseball instead of football. He struck out nine in his 17th quality start, and finished with 174 2/3 innings, more than twice as many as he totaled last season (88) when he pitched in relief. The right-hander began this year with 169 2/3 career innings in the big leagues over four seasons.

The Pirates apparently weren't interested in giving Samardzija an easy sendoff. In the first, Brock Holt singled, and one out later, Andrew McCutchen was hit by a pitch. Samardzija walked Garrett Jones on four pitches, although the TV graphics didn't agree with home-plate umpire Scott Barry's strike zone. Pedro Alvarez then hit a two-run single.

"I think [the first] was a combination of his last start and college game day -- it was like Notre Dame playing [USC]," Sveum said. "He was sprinting around on the mound, and going a mile a minute. I think he gathered himself and obviously pitched one heck of a game."

Samardzija admitted he was excited. Give an assist to catcher Welington Castillo for getting the right-hander focused again.

"[Samardzija] made really good pitches, but the umpire, I think [the strike zone] was a little tight at the beginning," Castillo said. "I went out to the mound and said, 'Hey, let it go, keep doing what you're doing, keep fighting and make your pitches.' I think he reset."

Soriano made it easier with his home run leading off the second, driving the first pitch from starter James McDonald into the left-field seats.

Tony Campana, batting ninth behind the pitcher for the first time this year, singled to open the Chicago third, reached third on DeJesus' single and scored when Luis Valbuena hit into a double play. McDonald then hit Anthony Rizzo with a pitch -- remember McCutchen? -- and both benches were warned.

The flip-flop worked again in the fifth when Campana doubled to lead off, stole third, and scored on Valbuena's sacrifice fly for a 3-2 lead.

"It took 138 games, but I finally did something right, huh?" Sveum said, laughing.

Pittsburgh tied it with two outs in the seventh, aided by a throwing error by shortstop Starlin Castro. Samardzija said something to Castro, but it wasn't a reprimand.

"He said, 'It's OK. Another one is coming to you, and you can make it,'" Castro said.

"When he's in the game and paying attention to what's going on, there aren't too many guys who are much better," Samardzija said of Castro. "He's learning with all of us and he's a heck of a player with a lot of talent. He'll make more plays for you than not."

Chicago had runners at first and second and two outs in the eighth when DeJesus lined a single to right. Castillo scored the tie-breaking run from second.

"He just wanted to finish strong," Castillo said of Samardzija. "I'm very proud of him. I wish next year, he has a better year, and the whole team has a better year, and we can be fighting every game."

Sveum felt the same way.

"To end up here, on this note at the end of his season, I don't know if he expected the second half and how he's developed and matured as a starting pitcher," Sveum said. "I think we would've been asking for too much for that to happen."

What the Cubs want next season is for Samardzija to do in six months what he did in the second half, which was post a 2.58 ERA. He won't have to battle for one of the five spots in the rotation, and could be the Opening Day starter.

"I knew what I needed to do and I knew I had a lot of question marks around myself coming into the year," Samardzija said. "I knew where I was going as a pitcher and the direction I was going, and wanted to keep improving and get that experience late in games. You really want the staff and everyone to know they can trust you and keep giving you the ball."

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