The Pittsburgh Pirates had plans to start the 2013 season on a high note.
Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija had other ideas.
The 28-year old Cubs right-hander, making his first career Opening Day start, fired eight shutout innings of two-hit ball, striking out nine, while pitching the Cubs to a 3-1 victory in front of a packed house at PNC Park.
Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo supplied all of the offense that Samardzija needed on the afternoon, crushing a two-run homer in the first inning off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett.
The veteran Burnett, also making his first career Opening Day start, didn’t pitch badly. Burnett struck out 10 while allowing six hits in 5.2 innings of work, but his day was over after surrendering an RBI double to Cubs catcher Welington Castillo in the sixth.
But the story of the afternoon was the dominance of Samardzija.
The Pirates had a chance in their half of the first when Starling Marte led off with a walk and Garrett Jones reached on an error. But Samardzija got Andrew McCutchen to bounce into a fielder’s choice and struck out both Pedro Alvarez and Gaby Sanchez to end the early threat.
After a Neil Walker single in the second, Samardzija got in a groove and retired the next 14 Pirates hitters before Andrew McCutchen delivered a two-out double in the sixth. But Cutch was stranded on second base after Alvarez grounded out to second.
After the first inning, the Pirates had a total of only two base runners throughout the next seven innings.
Burnett also got in a good groove and struck out the side in both the second and third innings and escaped a second and third, nobody out jam in the fourth with a pair of strike outs and a ground out.
The Bucs bullpen kept the game within reach as Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes and Mark Melancon combined to throw 3.1 innings of hitless baseball, striking out five.
The Pirates did make it interesting in the bottom of the ninth off Cubs’ closer Carlos Marmol.
Marmol hit McCutchen with a pitch with one out and after Cutch stole second, Alvarez delivered an RBI single to get the Bucs on the board. Marmol then walked Sanchez to bring the winning run to the plate in the form of Walker. But Cubs’ manager Dale Sveum lifted Marmol for left-hander James Russell, who got Walker to fly out to right. Sveum then lifted Russell for Kyuji Fujikawa, who got Russell Martin to pop out to end the game.
The Pirates are off tomorrow and are back in action on Wednesday when they take on the Cubs in the second game of a three-game series.
Winning Pitcher: Jeff Samardzija (1-0)
Losing Pitcher: A.J. Burnett (0-1)
Save: Kyuji Fujikawa (1)
Home Runs: Anthony Rizzo (1)