PITTSBURGH — Jeff Samardzija was in the news near the end of camp when Theo Epstein told a reporter the right-hander dumped his girlfriend last year to prove he was committed to becoming a starter.
If Samardzija continues to dominate the way he did Monday during the Cubs' 3-1 opening-day victory over the Pirates, his decision to become a bachelor could pay long-term dividends for both the pitcher and the franchise.
In his first opening-day start, Samardzija fired eight shutout innings against Pirates, allowing two hits while striking out seven in his best outing to date. The only other Cubs pitcher since 1914 to allow two or fewer hits over eight or more innings of an opener was Lon Warneke, who tossed a complete game, one-hit shutout on April 17, 1934.
On a day that started out with a light snowfall and evolved into a sunny, 41-degree afternoon, Samardzija outpitched A.J. Burnett and watched the bullpen survive a shaky ninth inning.
"I remember being in high school pitching in the snow against Michigan City (Ind.)," Samardzija said. "It wasn't that bad. That snow cleared up and the sun came out. What a beautiful day to play baseball."
Samardzija retired 14 straight batters from the second into the sixth inning, using a four-seam fastball and splitter to keep the Pirates at bay. Except for a second-inning single and a sixth-inning double, no balls were hit to the outfield off Samardzija.
Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs a quick lead in the first with a 438-foot, two-run homer on the first pitch he saw from Burnett. Rizzo had homered for Italy in a March 5 exhibition game against the A's in early March but didn't hit any in the Cactus League.
"Guys have been saying stuff, calling me 'Campy,'" Rizzo said, referring to diminutive ex-Cub Tony Campana, whose only major league home run was an inside-the-park job. "You get guys chirping at you. It's nice getting it out of the way."
Welington Castillo's RBI double in the sixth added an insurance run, and Samardzija left after 110 pitches. He was still throwing 96 mph in the eighth inning.
Manager Dale Sveum said it was the best game Samardzija has pitched.
"I'd say pitch is the key word there," Samardzija said. "I really thought it was one of the best pitched games I've thrown. I didn't have the best stuff that I've had, but I worked both sides of the plate, up and down, and really attacked their hitters."
Naturally, the Cubs couldn't end the opener without some drama. Closer Carlos Marmol, doing his Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams impersonation, was removed after only four batters in the ninth — a strikeout, a hit-by-pitch, an RBI single and a walk.
Sveum turned to matchups for the final two outs with lefty James Russell retiring Neil Walker and right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa inducing Russell Martin to fly out for his first save.
"Yeah, he's still the closer," Sveum said of Marmol. "I'm not making any changes or anything like that. He just didn't have it today."
Marmol said he felt "great" and was surprised but unperturbed by the move.
"I have all my confidence," he said. "One bad day. It happened the first day, but that's all right."