The Cubs had lost three straight, making their chances of catching the Pirates pretty remote, and they had been eliminated from any chance of winning the division title. Even so, they clinched a playoff spot two days before this game when the Giants lost to the Athletics.
Jake Arrieta not only nearly threw another no-hitter, he hit a home run.
This was the Cubs' 90th win of the year, clinching their first 90-win season since 2008. At 90-65 they were 4½ games behind the Pirates with seven games remaining.
I think I'm going to petition Major League Baseball to have ESPN show all of Jake Arrieta's starts.
Consider that the last two times he's pitched a game shown by the Worldwide Leader, he threw a no-hitter and then nearly topped it with a perfect game Sunday night in front of a raucous Wrigley Field crowd. How would that have been to top off ESPN's season?
Arrieta retired the first 18 batters he faced, but that doesn't tell the whole story. In those six innings, just one hitter, Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez, even hit the ball out of the infield. That was a fly to left run down by Kyle Schwarber leading off the sixth inning. Of the other 17 outs in those six innings, eight were by strikeout, five by groundout, two by popup and a pair were line drives hit to Addison Russell. He made a nice stab on the first one, hit by Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett, the sort of defensive play that you often see in a no-hitter or perfect game.
Gregory Polanco ruined the perfecto by leading off the seventh with a sharp single out of the reach of a diving Russell. Arrieta received a loud standing ovation after this hit. He followed by striking out Starling Marte. At this point the score is just 2-0 and the most important thing is now winning the game. Jake hit Andrew McCutchen -- I suppose that's one way of preventing him from getting a hit -- and then got Aramis Ramirez to hit into an inning-ending double play that was started on yet another excellent grab by Russell.
The Cubs had scored a run in the first inning when Burnett lost command. He walked Dexter Fowler to lead off the inning. Fowler advanced on an infield out and Kris Bryant singled him in, Bryant's 99th RBI. One more and he'll become the first N.L. rookie with 100 since Ryan Zimmerman in 2006. The Cubs loaded the bases on another walk and an infield hit by Starlin Castro, but could not score.
Speaking of Castro, the entire crowd got into clapping along to his walkup music. Here are some player reactions to that:
#Cubs Starlin Castro says Pirates' Cervelli told him that he wanted to take off his glove and clap along to Castro's walk-up song— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 28, 2015
#Cubs Castro loves the fans/teammates clapping to his walk-up music, Ando En La Versace by Omega. "It's awesome. It's a great moment"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 28, 2015
That clapping brought a festive, playoff-type atmosphere to the park. I can only imagine how much louder that might be in a postseason game. For Castro, that must be sweet validation for all the hard work he's put in since he was removed as the starting shortstop and made into a part-time second baseman. In 41 games since then, he's hitting .369/.385/.604 (41-for-111) with eight doubles and five home runs. That nearly became six homers in the seventh when Castro hit a ball that was originally called a home run on the field. On review, it was shown the ball hit the underside of the basket in left-center field, just inches from a home run. That made the score 4-0 instead of 5-0, but it was enough. Here's another look:
Arrieta, for his part, did hit a home run with one out in the second inning, to the opposite field, no less. He nearly hit another one in the sixth; it was caught by McCutchen at the wall in left-center. Among the amazing Arrieta numbers this year (and really, I could post them here all day long):
Since June 21, #Cubs' Jake Arrieta has allowed 2 HRs in 138 IP (through 4 tonight) and hit 2 HRs in 48 at-bats.— STATS (@STATS_MLB) September 28, 2015
Add three innings and one at-bat to that total, as noted, that was tweeted after the fourth inning.
Arrieta was removed after the seventh inning and 84 pitches. Here's the conversation Jake had with Joe Maddon about that:
Manager Joe Maddon said he already had made up his mind to pull Arrieta after seven innings. "(Maddon) told me, 'Don't hate me,' " Arrieta said of Maddon's decision to pull him after 84 pitches. "I said, 'I don't want to hate you. Don't do it.' "But I have no issue with that."
I have to assume that if the perfect game had still been intact, Arrieta would have at least been allowed to start the eighth inning. Jake threw 84 pitches, 54 for strikes, and should be well-rested for another similar outing Friday in Milwaukee, followed by the wild-card game October 7. You think the Pirates want to face him again? I'd think not: this year, in five starts against Pittsburgh, Jake has thrown 36 innings, allowed 18 (!) hits and five walks (0.639 WHIP) and three earned runs (0.75 ERA). Jake's season ERA dropped to 1.82 with this spectacular outing. More amazing Arrieta numbers:
Post All-Star Break: Bob Gibson 1968: 16 GS, 1.19 ERA, 144.0 IP, 0.861 WHIP Jake Arrieta 2015: 14 GS, 0.80 ERA, 101.1 IP, 0.750 WHIP— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 28, 2015
To me, that 1.82 mark is close enough to Zack Greinke's 1.65, with all the other things Jake's accomplished this year, to make Jake the Cy Young Award winner. Greinke will start Monday night in San Francisco against the Giants and likely also will have another start next weekend against the Padres at Dodger Stadium.
Travis Wood, who's becoming quite a good setup-type reliever, threw the last two innings without incident, striking out two and giving the Pirates their only other baserunner, a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Josh Harrison in the eighth.
The win for Arrieta was his 21st. He became the first Cubs pitcher to win more than 20 games in a season since Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins won 24 in 1971.
The Cubs honored Aramis Ramirez before the game. The former Cubs third baseman, who spent eight and a half seasons in blue pinstripes and whose 239 home runs as a Cub rank sixth in franchise history, was given a No. 16 panel from the Wrigley Field scoreboard by Castro, who was his teammate for two years in Chicago. The brief pregame ceremony brought Ramirez warm applause from the sellout throng, who appeared to enjoy every moment of this one. That's the kind of atmosphere I hope I see when the Cubs take the field at Wrigley for division-series games in October, likely against the Cardinals. (Not that a Wrigley crowd needs excuses to get hyped up for any games against the Cardinals!)
The Cubs hang on to a thread of a chance that the wild-card game could be played at home; they'd pretty much need to run the table the next few days while the Pirates get swept by the Cardinals. Currently the Cubs trail by 4½ games with seven to play (six for the Pirates). Sure, it's a longshot, but stranger things have happened. The win Sunday was important not only for that slim possibility, but for the fact that the Cubs hadn't won since Tuesday and needed a win to get that "winning feeling," for whatever that's worth, back. This team has had little losing skids several times since the All-Star break, and always followed them with long winning streaks. Also, the win was the Cubs' 90th of the year, giving them their first 90-win season since 2008 and just the sixth in franchise history since the last N.L. pennant in 1945.
The Pirates, for their part, head home for a three-game set against the Cardinals starting Monday night. They are three games in arrears in the N.L. Central, still with a chance to win the division, or at least perhaps force a tiebreaker game a week from today. That could benefit the Cubs, as they'd be resting up waiting for Wednesday's game while the Pirates and Cardinals have to use up their bullpens.
All of the above are unlikely to happen, but we know the Cubs and Pirates will meet October 7 regardless.
It was nice, at last, to meet BCBer kanderber in the bleachers Sunday night. He's one of the longest-standing members of this site and it was a pleasure to finally get to chat a bit with him in person. Nice to meet you -- and what a game you picked to see in person!
There's one more bit of regular-season Wrigley business to take care of, Monday night's makeup of the May 30 rainout against the Kansas City Royals. While the Royals have clinched the A.L. Central, they still do have one thing to play for. They're currently tied with the Blue Jays for the best record in the American League (90-65, the same record as the Cubs), so they're shooting for home field throughout the postseason.
Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs in this one, which will (at last) complete the team's interleague schedule (they're 9-10 so far). Yordano Ventura goes for the Royals.