Over the last few years, the Cubs haven't provided us with many exciting or well-played games or thrills.
Sunday afternoon, they gave us two of the three and nearly the third. Tsuyoshi Wada no-hit the team that originally signed him out of Japan for six innings. The hit that broke up the no-hitter, Steve Pearce's home run to Waveland, was the only hit the Orioles got off four Cubs pitchers and the Cubs completed a three-game sweep of Baltimore with a 2-1 win on a perfectly gorgeous Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Both of those things are notable -- the weather, which hasn't been anywhere near this nice most of the summer, and the sweep, the Cubs' second of the season. The other one was also over an A.L. East opponent, the Boston Red Sox. The win made the Cubs' interleague record 9-8 for 2014, with one three-game set left against the Blue Jays in Toronto next month.
Wada was absolutely outstanding, one of the Cubs' best outings by a starter all year. After allowing one baserunner (Adam Jones, who walked with two out in the first), Wada retired 16 straight, and at one point from the third through the sixth, he struck out eight of the 12 hitters he faced. Never getting much above 90 miles per hour -- I saw one or two 91s on the Wrigley pitch-speed meter -- Wada effectively moved the ball around the zone and two of his last three K's were called.
After Arismendy Alcantara sliced a ball through the wind blowing off Lake Michigan for a home run into the right-center field basket for a 1-0 lead in the fifth, Chris Coghlan doubled to lead off the sixth and was doubled in by Anthony Rizzo, who went to the opposite field for his two-bagger. That sixth inning lasted a bit long, and as often happens with pitchers working on no-hitters, long innings at bat by their teams disrupt the rhythm of the game.
Pearce's home run was no-doubt-about it; it bounced on the north side of Waveland and whoever flagged the ball down kept it (good, I say). The Orioles had just two more baserunners, and that was their only hit. Wada was lifted to a warm ovation after he retired Adam Jones on a pop fly; he tipped his cap to the crowd. It was the right time; I suspect he'd have been left in as long as the no-no was going, considering he had thrown just 79 pitches in his rain-suspended previous start against the Giants. But with righthanded power coming up in Nelson Cruz, Rick Renteria did the right thing replacing him with Neil Ramirez.
Ramirez walked Cruz -- perhaps a wise thing -- and then retired J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis to end the inning. Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon (21st save) finished up uneventfully, except for Strop hitting pinch-hitter Delmon Young on a 1-2 pitch. For that, the Cubs got Rizzo hit on the first pitch he saw from Brian Matusz with two out in the eighth. (Really, Orioles? Really?)
Rondon posted yet another pitch-efficient save, just eight offerings (six strikes). I could get used to this sort of thing, as well as the length of the game (two hours, 37 minutes, the 10th-fastest Cubs game of 2014).
As for Wada: What's his future with this team? I don't think anyone would have expected him to throw this well at the big-league level, at least I didn't. He's 33 and (at least according to his baseball-reference page) not arbitration-eligible until 2017. While his velocity means, as it does for Kyle Hendricks, he has to have pinpoint control and excellent command, he's been able to do that, and that should at least put him in the mix for the 2015 rotation -- and he's lefthanded, and that's always a plus.
In addition to all that, Wada registered his first big-league hit Sunday, a "swinging bunt" down the third-base line; he beat the throw to the bag. It was also the first hit of the game, with two out in the third inning.
I'm guessing the Orioles would like to have Wada, Strop and Jake Arrieta back right now. Again, credit where credit is due to Theo & Co. for finding all three of these guys and getting them to the point where they are all very good major-league contributors. You should know that this is just the second time this year that the Orioles have been swept -- they were also swept by the Tigers, a playoff contender, back in May. They came into Wrigley on a four-game winning streak and a sweep of the White Sox and nine games ahead in the A.L. East and... well, this is a very satisfying sweep. Because baseball.
Late-breaking Cubs roster news:
I'll guess Watkins will be back after September 1.
One non-Cubs note: a BCB tip o' the cap to Chicago's Jackie Robinson West Little League team, who fought hard but lost the World Championship game to South Korea 8-4. They played well all week in the LLWS and won the U.S. title, only to fall short in the ultimate game. Well done, and they represented our city well.
The Cubs will certainly enjoy their off day Monday before opening a three-game set with the Reds at Cincinnati, where the Cubs will go in just 4½ games behind the Reds for fourth place in the N.L. Central. Travis Wood will open the series Tuesday evening against Johnny Cueto.