Just as the White Sox hoped when they acquired him, Jeff Samardzija earned a late September victory over a top American League club on Tuesday night.
But little else has gone according to plan for Samardzija or the White Sox.
Samardzija delivered seven sharp innings as the White Sox bested the Kansas City Royals 4-2 at U.S. Cellular Field. But instead of pitching in a pennant race, Samardzija was mostly improving his free agent resume as he likely made his final start for the White Sox, who officially were eliminated from the wild-card race last weekend. After losing eight of his previous nine starts, Samardzija won his second in a row.
“We all wish it would have been different,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I know he would, we would. But again, I look at him as a good pitcher. It didn't work in that period of time but you see him throw these last two games he threw, you realize he's a good pitcher.”
Two starts after he was booed off the U.S. Cellular Field mound, Samardzija disappointed a Royals-friendly crowd as he posted five straight scoreless innings to start.
Samardzija, who threw a one-hit shutout last week in Detroit, only got in trouble once in the early going. But he pitched around a pair of one-out singles in the second inning and retired nine straight batters into the fifth.
It’s just the type of outing the White Sox envisioned from Samardzija when they acquired him from Oakland last December and one he has only delivered on occasion in a disappointing season. Prior to his shutout on Sept. 21, Samardzija went 1-8 with 9.24 ERA in the nine starts since the White Sox opted to hang onto him at the trade deadline. At the time of that decision — a total reversal as the club was expected to sell Samardzija to the highest bidder — the White Sox had won seven straight games. Suddenly they found themselves in the thick of the wild-card race and had visions of a deep postseason run with a rotation headed by Samardzija and Chris Sale.
But by the time Samardzija lost an Aug. 29 decision against the Seattle Mariners — his sixth straight loss in August — the White Sox had fallen seven games behind the second wild-card spot.
Instead of a storybook ending pitching for the team he grew up rooting for, Samardzija said he’s unsatisfied with his season.
“I had a big role in what happened this year, and just think about it, if you throw a couple better games here and there, instead of some clunkers like I did, we might be telling a little different story right now,” Samardzija said. “But you let it all hang out every game and what happens, happens. Unfortunately it didn't go my way as many times as I wanted to for this team, but, you know, that's the way it goes.”
With Samardzija in top form on Tuesday the White Sox never trailed. They took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on Jose Abreu’s two-out RBI single and increased the lead to three runs on Adam Eaton’s two-run homer in the sixth.
Samardzija — who allowed two runs and eight hits in seven innings — saw his scoreless innings streak end at 14 in the sixth as Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales had back-to-back solo homers to get Kansas City within a run.
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But Samardzija, who finished 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA in 214 innings, struck out Mike Moustakas to end the sixth and was aided by a fantastic run-saving catch by Trayce Thompson in the seventh.
Samardzija intends to enjoy his final five games in a White Sox uniform. He believes the team has a lot of great pieces and only needs to solve its consistency issue.
He also said it’s hard not to wonder what if.
“That’s the million-dollar question every year,” Samardzija said. “As a professional, you’re meant to go out and find that as quick as possible, and a lot of times that’s out on mound mid-game. There’s a lot of things that go into it. Sometimes it’s about just clearing your head and having fun out there, and enjoying what you’re doing instead of putting so much pressure on yourself.”