The buzz started in the top of the seventh inning, after the Cubs' five-run sixth had left little doubt about the outcome of the game. Before that, the Cubs' 1-0 lead had the smallish crowd at Wrigley Field focused on the Cubs getting some more runs.
But as the seventh inning began and the potential history unfolding in front of the fans at Wrigley Field caught everyone's attention, louder roars came with every out recorded by Jake Arrieta. His seventh inning was just as routine as the first six, a fly to left, a ground ball, a called strikeout. The only baserunner had been Billy Hamilton, who walked leading off the fourth and called safe on a stolen-base attempt. Rick Renteria challenged and won; the call was overturned.
The Cubs added a run in the seventh on Jorge Soler's first Wrigley Field homer and that really focused everyone in the ballpark on Arrieta's no-hit bid. 42 years after the last no-hitter at Wrigley Field, would there be another one on this cool evening?
Arrieta struck out Jay Bruce to lead off the eighth, to another thunderous roar from the crowd (it really was that loud, despite the sparseness of the gathering).
Then Brandon Phillips stepped to the plate. He sent a deep fly ball into the left-center field gap. Matt Szczur, an excellent defensive center fielder, nearly ran it down, but the ball dropped just inches (four inches, according to this article) from his glove and the Reds had their first hit.
That let the air out of the ballpark; you could feel the disappointment, but Arrieta then got a warm ovation from the Wrigley faithful. Pitching coach Chris Bosio paid Arrieta a visit, after which he retired the last two hitters in the inning easily, the last, Ramon Santiago, on another strikeout. That one matched Arrieta's career high, 11.
You can imagine the dugout conversation, right? Rick Renteria, over the first 150 games of his managing career, had not let any pitcher complete a game. Arrieta was at 95 pitches through eight innings and whether he had to beg for it or not, Renteria let him finish. Arrieta came to bat in the last of the eighth to another standing ovation; the fact that he struck out to finish the inning didn't matter, as he then came out for the ninth. It was just the second time this year that any Cubs starting pitcher had even thrown a pitch in the ninth inning (Jeff Samardzija threw nine innings in this 12-inning loss to the White Sox May 5).
Oddly, Reds manager Tucker Barnhart, to bat for Hamilton, in a way, conceding the shutout. Barnhart grounded to Chris Valaika at first base; Valaika flipped to Arrieta covering, a fine and appropriate way to finish the Cubs' first complete game of 2014, a 7-0 win over the Reds.sent three pinch-hitters to face Arrieta in the ninth; the one for the pitcher was expected, the other two not so much. Arrieta struck out the first two to establish a new career high in K's (13), and then Price sent up his third-string catcher,
How rare was this game? Let us count the ways.
- It was the first complete game of Arrieta's career in his 96th career start.
- It was just the 25th game in Cubs history where 28 or fewer batters were faced by Cubs pitching in a game that went nine innings. Here's the entire list.
- It was the first Cubs complete game since August 19, 2013, Samardzija over the Nationals at Wrigley, a span of 189 games.
- It was the first Cubs complete-game shutout since May 27, 2013, Samardzija over the White Sox at the Cell.
- It was the first Cubs complete-game shutout at Wrigley Field since September 29, 2009, Ryan Dempster over the Pirates.
- It was the first Cubs complete-game one-hitter since May 25, 2001, Kerry Wood over the Brewers at Wrigley Field.
- It was the first time the Cubs have posted back-to-back shutouts since September 10, 2010 and September 11, 2010, over the Brewers at Miller Park.
- And, finally, it was the first time the Cubs have posted back-to-back shutouts at Wrigley Field since May 24, 2001 and May 25, 2001, when Jon Lieber and Kerry Wood threw back-to-back one-hitters, the first over the Reds, the second over the Brewers.
And on top of Arrieta's pitching, he doubled in the third inning and scored what turned out to be the only run he needed.
What more can you say? It was disappointing to have the no-hitter broken up, but that's the best Cubs pitching performance not only of the year, but as shown above, in several years. It's the third time Arrieta has taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning this year (and second time against the Reds). I think one day he will throw a no-no; he's got the stuff and the right mental approach to the game. Could he turn into a true ace? That remains to be seen, but at age 28, he could still have several excellent years ahead of him. Again, as I have said before, kudos to everyone involved in the trade that brought Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Cubs from the Orioles in exchange for three months of Scott Feldman, probably the best trade Theo & Co. have made in their tenure so far.
Also as noted above, the Cubs broke a tight game open in a five-run sixth inning that was highlighted by a bases-clearing double by Chris Coghlan, just the second time this year that the Reds' Johnny Cueto has allowed six or more runs in a start. That let the crowd relax and root for the no-hitter. It was a special evening at the ballpark, even though the no-no wasn't completed. Arrieta likely has just one more start remaining this season and won't have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title (he's got 149⅔ after Tuesday's masterpiece), but he's certainly made his mark on the major leagues in 2014. Arrieta now has 33 starts as a Cub, just about one full season's worth, and has thrown 201⅓ innings in those starts with a 2.91 ERA, a WHIP of 1.043, and 195 strikeouts with just 64 walks and 12 homers allowed. If those aren't "ace" numbers, they're pretty close. Tuesday night, he was masterful, with control and command throughout.
Nearly lost in all this was the fact that the Cubs won a series from the Reds at Wrigley Field for the first time in more than three years (since September 5-6-7, 2011) and have a chance to sweep a series from the visitors from Cincinnati for the first time at Wrigley since July 24-25-26, 2009, if they can win Wednesday night's contest, which will feature a pair of rookies: the Cubs' Kyle Hendricks and the Reds' Daniel Corcino.