"If you look at all of my starts this year, that's probably one of the more proud starts I can say that I had," Samardzija said. "There's been times when I've had good stuff and it's gone smoothly. To come out early and scuffle, really not have fastball command or my slider all game, to get through the seven innings felt really good. Felt like a starting pitcher."
Samardzija, who had held opponents to a .209 batting average over his last nine starts, struggled with his fastball and slider from the start. Chris Nelson and Carlos Gonzalez homered to lead off the second and third, respectively, though Samardzija was able to limit the damage. He allowed three runs, four hits and a pair of walks in the first three frames.
"I looked at him to see him looking at the pitch count up on the board, so he kind of knew where he was," manager Dale Sveum said. "I told him he needs to start looking at that pitch count when it says 'Zero' in the first inning."
After three innings, Samardzija had thrown 60 pitches. He needed just 39 pitches to get through the next four innings, departing after a 99-pitch effort with just two more hits allowed. It was a performance befitting of a top-of-the-rotation starter that Samardzija aspires to become.
"That's always been in the back of my mind," Samardzija said. "Obviously, I've known I have a long ways to go. I think when you go out and do things like that, when you can have a successful day when you don't have everything, that means a lot.
"It gives you extra confidence when you do have your stuff to pitch deep into games and throw a lot innings. Ultimately, that's what it's all about when you're a starter."
While Samardzija was finding his groove, the offense also struggled, managing just a Starlin Castro walk in the first four innings of its first matchup against Rockies lefty Drew Pomeranz. Castro was retired on a double play.
"We were in a good place but we didn't do much offensively," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "We took advantage of a wild pitch and we hit a couple of solo home runs."
Alfonso Soriano broke the whitewash with a solo homer to lead off the fifth, his 23rd long ball of the season -- all of which have come since May 15. Only Milwaukee's Ryan Braun (24) and Arizona's Jason Kubel (23) have as many during that span. It was the Cubs' first hit of the game. One batter later, catcher Welington Castillo homered to nearly the same spot in the left-field bleachers, trimming the Rockies' advantage to one run.
"You should be always aggressive on a guy that throws that many fastballs," Sveum said of the Rockies' lefty. "I thought we were getting beat a little bit early, then we made the adjustment and hit a couple of home runs after that."
Another piece of the Cubs' future puzzle tied the game in the eighth, when rookie Brett Jackson hit his first Wrigley Field homer off Rockies reliever Matt Belisle.
"We talk about coming up with the big hit and looking to do that, looking to be a game-changer," Jackson said. "When you get a lineup that has a bunch of guys that want to be game-changers, then you're looking at some big moments."
A couple of batters later, Joe Mather singled home Luis Valbuena with the go-ahead run, then the Cubs tacked on an insurance tally thanks to a couple of Colorado errors.
"That's just the way it goes sometimes," Nelson said. "We've been playing good defense. We just happened to have a blowup in the eighth inning. We'll be back again tomorrow."
Of course, it wouldn't have mattered had Samardzija been unable to limit the damage during those trying early innings.
"It seems like every time out something new comes across, a new situation you need to put in your back pocket how you approached it and how you got out of it," Samardzija said. "How did you keep your team in it? That's really the most important thing. We saw there in the eighth that anything can happen."
The rally erased the bad taste from a slow start, beginning in the first when Castro failed to get the glove down on a roller to short, allowing Jonathan Herrera to reach. Castro has 19 errors on the season, second only to Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez in the Majors. That led to the first run of the game, when a Samardzija pitch skipped to the screen, allowing Herrera to score the unearned tally.
Still, Samardzija showed why he's been one of the National League's emergent starters this season and a bright spot in the Cubs' difficult campaign. He exited after the seventh, his 11th outing of seven innings or more this season, and third in his last four starts.
Samardzija struck out seven. Since the All-Star break, he has posted a 2.16 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 25 innings at Wrigley Field, seemingly getting stronger deep into his first season as a full-time big league starter, one in which he continues to show signs that he could become the Cubs' eventual ace.
"He's got the durability, he's got the power, he's got the split," Sveum said. "Now it's just more of a learning process. His mentality, he wants to be a No. 1 and he has the stuff to be able to do it.
"Now it's just the pitch efficiency to be able to go seven innings, 115 pitches, 120, if need be. Obviously, that's down the road a little bit. He's got all the makings to do it."