The Cubs had won the first game of their West Coast trip in San Francisco, but then lost four straight, two to the Giants and the first two of a series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
And then Jake Arrieta happened.
Jake's no-hitter not only snapped the losing streak, but served notice that his season was becoming even more special.
The Cubs were 74-55 after this win, 9½ games behind the Cardinals, five games behind the Pirates, and 5½ games ahead of the Giants for the second wild card.
Oh, man, is the Cubs' flight home going to be fun!
First, they're all going to be dressed like this:
And they're going to be celebrating Jake Arrieta's first career no-hitter -- the game we've been expecting him to throw for a couple of years now -- 2-0 over the Los Angeles Dodgers, on national TV no less, ESPN's Sunday night game. That's the first no-hitter ever carried on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter against the Astros in Milwaukee, September 14, 2008, the last Cubs no-hitter before Sunday night, was also on a Sunday, but not televised nationally by ESPN.
Most pitchers who throw no-hitters are dominant, so saying that sells Arrieta's performance short. He struck out 12, including the last three batters of the game (Justin Turner, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley), which is the most for any Cub who's ever thrown a no-hitter (previous record: 10, by Zambrano). His Game Score of 98 is the second-highest in Cubs history (Kerry Wood's 20-K game in 1998 scored 105, the highest for a nine-inning game in MLB history), and one of 48 games in major-league history that had a Game Score of 98 or higher.
Two baserunners. One was on an error by Starlin Castro on a ground ball hit by Enrique Hernandez in the third inning. Yes, it was definitely an error. But after a sacrifice bunt, Arrieta struck out Rollins to end the inning. Rollins walked with two out in the sixth, the only other baserunner. Other than that, there were a couple of fly balls that looked tough off the bat, but were caught. Matt Szczur was involved in both, catching one on the warning track in left and appearing briefly to lose the other one in the lights after switching to right field, before catching an eighth-inning fly ball off the bat of Joc Pederson.
When the first inning of this game ended, it looked like the Cubs might get some offense going against Alex Wood. Chris Denorfia walked and Kris Bryant hit his 21st home run into the left-field seats for a 2-0 lead. The Cubs had two other singles in the inning, by Szczur and Castro, but could not score again... for the entire game, despite having 13 total hits. They were 0-for-9 with RISP and left 12 men on base, but it didn't matter because Arrieta shut the Dodgers down completely.
Arrieta took no-hitters into the seventh inning or later three times last year, and in fact, had a perfect game into the eighth in Boston last June. He threw a one-hitter against the Reds at Wrigley Field last September 16, that no-hitter broken up with one out in the eighth by Brandon Phillips. It's seemed for quite a long time that Arrieta would throw one of these, and it couldn't have come at a better time, because more important than the no-hitter was the fact that the Cubs won the game at a point where they really, really, badly, needed to win. Losing four straight on the West Coast on a tough road trip put the team in a position where a win would solidify their position on a wild-card spot. That was especially true after both the Pirates and Giants lost earlier Sunday, so the Cubs picked up a game on both of them.
Arrieta also posted his 17th win with this game and lowered his season ERA to 2.11, just half a run behind Zack Greinke in the National League. Arrieta's ERA in August is 0.44, and I'm guessing this is going to be true:
Thinking they don't really need to vote on NL August Pitcher of The Month, right? Why waste the paper.— Len Kasper (@LenKasper) August 31, 2015
The last Cubs pitcher to have a full-season ERA this low was Dick Ellsworth, who posted a 2.11 ERA in 1963. The last Cubs pitcher to have a full-season ERA lower than 2.11 was Lon Warneke, who posted a 2.00 ERA in 287⅓ innings in 1933.
Historic things are happening, Cubs fans. Revel in them. Enjoy them. You can be sure the team is; Joe Maddon, in his postgame remarks, said that "Everyone knew about the no-hitter in the dugout but didn't say anything. Everyone except Justin Grimm, who didn't know even after it was over."
It's light moments like that, created by Maddon, that keep this team on an even keel. Four losses in a row was tough, but this game has to energize everyone.
Congratulations to Jake Arrieta, whose no-hitter was just the second by a Cubs pitcher in the last 43 years. Oddly, Milt Pappas' no-hitter in 1972 will have its 43rd anniversary just three days from now, September 2.
One note about the ESPN broadcast: Jessica Mendoza was awesome, replacing Curt Schilling. Incisive and funny, the network ought to dump Schilling right now and keep her on board.
What further thrills does this team have for us? I don't know about you, but I'm fully on board for the ride.