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Samardzija and relievers tough when it counts in Cubs’ win

By Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — The pressure was on Jeff Samardzija on Tuesday at Wrigley Field after fans were given bobblehead dolls in his image as they entered the gates.

“You don’t want to pitch bad and see your bobblehead smashed all over the pavement,” Samardzija said.

Samardzija handled the pressure with aplomb, turning in another strong performance in the Cubs’ 5-3 victory over the Padres.

The Cubs have won two straight after a 12-game losing streak, looking a lot more relaxed with the monkey off their backs.

“It’s a big burden to deal with,” manager Dale Sveum said of the streak. “The players … feel like they’re letting people down. You almost feel embarrassed when it gets to streaks like that.”

Alfonso Soriano homered and made a diving catch in left field to start a double play, Shawn Camp stranded a runner on third with no outs in the eighth and James Russell closed it out for his first career save.

But it was Samardzija’s day, both literally and figuratively. He allowed three runs over seven plus innings, striking out eight to snap a personal two-game losing streak. Samardzija (5-3) also contributed at the plate, knocking in a run in the fifth off Padres starter Eric Stults.

“That’s fun, man. That’s what I enjoy doing,” Samardzija said. “As a pitcher, it’s kind of great because you’re not expected to do anything.”

With a 3-1 lead in the sixth, Samardzija was on cruise control.

“I thought once we took the lead I wasn’t going to have to manage,” Sveum said. “I thought he was going to walk right through the ninth inning.”

But Will Venable’s RBI triple in the eighth pulled the Padres to within a run, forcing Samardzija’s removal. With the tying run on third and no outs, Camp induced a comeback from Chris Denorfia, a line drive to first from Yonder Alonso and a fly to left from Carlos Quentin.

Camp and Russell are basically in the roles the now-retired Kerry Wood and the now-demoted Carlos Marmol have vacated. Though the Mariners released Camp in spring training, he has been the Cubs’ most consistent right-handed reliever, posting a 2.67 ERA.

“It’s a good feeling, a good win,” Camp said. “Good teamwork.”

In other words, it was all “good.”

“Camp probably has been our MVP up to this point,” Sveum said.

Camp retired all four men he faced before making way for Russell in the ninth. After giving up a bloop double with two outs, Russell struck out Nick Hundley to end it.

Russell’s father, Jeff Russell, had 186 saves during a 14-year career. James’ first save, in his third season as a Cub, is one he always will remember.

“I only have one, he has a hundred and a bunch,” James said. “I know I have a little more work to do before I’m up to his level.”

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