It had to be particularly satisfying for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and the scouts who recommended that they trade for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop from the Orioles a year ago, to see those two pitchers play key roles in Cubs' 4-1 defeat of Baltimore in the teams' first meeting in six years. The Cubs' win snapped a four-game Orioles winning streak and put a damper in the high spirits of thousands of orange-clad Birds fans who made the trip to Chicago to see their team play for an entire week. They swept the White Sox, but the Cubs put a stop to Baltimore's dream of sweeping out of Chicago entirely.
I can't say enough about Jake Arrieta and what a find he's been for the Cubs, and the Orioles got nothing in return except for three months of mostly mediocre pitching from Scott Feldman. He was dominant again, retiring the first 13 hitters he faced before Chris Davis broke up the nascent perfect game possibility with a single. Davis advanced to second on a walk and with two out, tried to score on a Caleb Joseph single. Ryan Sweeney's throw was perfect, and John Baker tagged Davis out, but then we had to have one of those damnable reviews of Rule 7.13 (the catcher-blocking-the-plate thing, which is going to have to be adjusted in the offseason). Fortunately, they made the right call:
I'm certainly in favor of baseball doing something about reducing home-plate collisions, which can be dangerous. But they can't totally take away the catcher's ability to tag runners, either, just so there's a "lane" for the baserunner. As I said, MLB is going to have to take another look at this rule this winter and make adjustments.
Arrieta completed seven innings, allowing just two other hits, one of them a home run from Nelson Cruz. There's no shame in that, as Cruz is leading the major leagues with 34 home runs. Give 'em up with no one on base and shut the rest of his teammates down, and that's a good recipe for victory. Strop allowed a couple of baserunners but got out of his setup inning with a groundout, and Hector Rondon registered his 20th save. The first two Rondon outs were screaming line drives speared by Javier Baez and Luis Valbuena, respectively -- and Valbuena was playing near second base on a shift on Davis. After that, I thought, "Less drama, please, for the final out!", and I got my wish, with another easy grounder to second. Eight pitches was all it took for Rondon to close the game, and that's his seventh save in 10 or fewer pitches -- what a refreshing change from previous Cubs closers' agonizingly difficult saves.
The Cubs got on the board with Valbuena's 12th homer of the season, his second in three days. The ball didn't look as if it would cut through the hot, humid start to the afternoon, but kept carrying until it was in the first row of the right-field bleachers. It tied his career high of 12 homers, set last year. A Sweeney single and Logan Watkins' first hit of 2014 gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead, and then Baez launched a home run onto Waveland, a blast with a similar trajectory to the one Welington Castillo hit Thursday night. Here are the Valbuena and Baez homers, courtesy BCBer ubercubsfan:
The Cubs completed the scoring with a double by pinch-hitter Chris Valaika in the seventh, a sacrifice bunt that I really can't complain about from Baker, and an RBI single from Arismendy Alcantara.
This is the kind of game we hope we see a lot more of. Enough offense to win. Solid, shut-down starting pitching and relief work. No rain, and a lake breeze that set in about midway through the game that reduced humidity and kept a couple of balls that might have gone out otherwise in the park. And, a relatively quick game time: two hours, 48 minutes, all in all, one of my favorite games of 2014. The Orioles fans were everywhere at Wrigley; I'm sure you saw all the orange shirts. With little offense from their team, they were relatively quiet, except to do their traditional yell of "O's!" during the National Anthem when the line "Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave" was sung.
If Arrieta and Strop can keep this up, this trade will not only go down as one of the best made by this management group, but maybe one of the better ones in the history of the franchise.
The teams meet again Saturday afternoon at an unusual starting time for a Saturday, 1:20 CT, with Kyle Hendricks against someone the Cubs used to see often (nine times) when he was a member of the Astros, Bud Norris.