Jeff Samardzija had a career-high 11 strikeouts and Luis Valbuena stroked the tie-breaking three-run double in the seventh inning, lifting the Chicago Cubs past the Atlanta Braves, 4-1, in the opener of a four-game set.
Samardzija (6-7), who allowed nine runs in his last start against the Mets and had a 12.27 earned run average in his four previous starts coming into Monday's game, tossed seven dominant innings in which he allowed one run on four hits and a walk.
"Like I said the last start, I thought it was a lot mental," Samardzija said. "For me, these last two starts, I felt like I wasn't giving myself the right opportunity to succeed and that's frustrating, especially with how our team's been playing. You don't want to be the one guy to let your team down. I really wanted to come out today and attack the zone and see what happens."
"That split finger was working really well today," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said about Samardzija. "You don't see a lot of guys, especially with the lineup they have, taking swings like that."
Rizzo, coming off a weekend which included two game-winning hits, crushed his second home run of the season as the Cubs won their season-best fourth straight game.
"I'm just taking it at-bat by at-bat," Rizzo said. "Just try to learn from each at-bat and get my confidence up more. Just go from there."
Tommy Hanson (9-5) matched Samardzija pitch-for-pitch early, but the right- hander gave up four runs on seven hits and a walk. He struck out eight and had a five-start unbeaten stretch broken. He's 0-4 lifetime against the Cubs.
"Just came down to that last inning really," Hanson said. "A couple of base hits up the middle and I wanted to throw a back-door slider right there and it kind of leaked over the middle. I felt really good with my stuff. I was throwing strikes and getting ahead of guys. It just came down to that last inning."
Rizzo led off the fourth by slamming an outside fastball into the seats in left-center field, giving the Cubs an early lead.
The Braves tied the game in the sixth inning. After Michael Bourn stroked a two-out double to left field, Martin Prado hit a line-drive base hit to left.
The Cubs quickly regained their lead. Bryan LaHair and Steve Clevenger delivered back-to-back singles to open the seventh and put runners on the corners. After Darwin Barney worked a walk, Valbuena smoked a first-pitch slider into right field, clearing the bases.
Atlanta wasted a leadoff double from Chipper Jones in the seventh, and Shawn Camp kept the Braves off the board in the eighth despite Bourn reaching second base. James Russell worked past a lead-off single in the ninth to pick up his second save of the year.
Russell was pitching in place of Carlos Marmol, who had pitched the last three days...Samardzija's 11 strikeouts were the most for a Cubs pitcher since Matt Garza fanned 12 Pirates on April 3, 2011...The Cubs have won six out of their last seven...Samardzija is 2-0 against the Braves this year, allowing two runs in 14 innings to go along with 18 strikeouts...Jones, who went 1-for-4 with a double, extended his hitting streak to nine games.