Wild wild-card win sends a message: Don't mess with the Cubs
They couldn't just win a postseason game for the first time in 12 years. They're the Chicago Cubs.
They couldn't just let the story begin and end with Jake Arrieta summoning his inner Bob Gibson-meets-Madison Bumgarner to fill up another scoreboard with zeros. They're the Cubs.
So we can't tell the epic tale of their unforgettable, 4-0 bludgeoning of a tremendous, 98-win team from Pittsburgh in the National League wild-card game by merely talking baseball. Oh, no.
Not on a night when benches emptied, choke holds were applied, Gatorade coolers were attacked and the most unhittable pitcher in baseball was surrounded by U.N. peacekeeping forces wearing Cubs hats.
Because here's what we learned Wednesday night at rocking, rolling, electrified PNC Park: Don't mess with these Cubs. Literally.
"You don't see that stuff happen in playoff baseball too much," said Jon Lester, after a wild evening that was part Jake Arrieta Masterpiece Theater and part "Wrestlemania." "I know people back in the day used to say that getting into fights or whatever used to bring their teams closer. But I don't think we need to be any closer. When you look around, the chemistry on this team is not really a problem."
Since he then stopped to look around, so did we. And it was quite a scene. If you ever wondered what sort of party your buddies might throw if you'd all waited 107 years to unleash it, this was it. Laughs. Hugs. Cigars. Literally hundreds of bottles of Korbel Brut, followed by an emergency case of Royal Cuvee, being sprayed in all directions. And on and on it went, into the night, for well over an hour.
OK, sold. Chemistry on this team is not a problem.
"Getting in a fight, I don't think that helps us," Lester went on, relishing one more moment that made him thankful to be a Cub. "But at the same time, I don't think it hurts us. We're going to stand up for our guys. And we're going to make sure that the other teams know we're going to stand up for our guys."
Well, especially if it was one particular guy. A guy named Jacob J. Arrieta, who is acting these days as if he isn't planning to give up another run until, like, mid-December.
On his way to a historic, 11-strikeout, zero-walk, four-hit shutout, Arrieta still managed to plunk two Pirates hitters with pitches. Francisco Cervelligot drilled by a 94 mph, up-and-in heat wave in the fifth inning. Then, an inning later, Josh Harrison took a clearly unintentional breaking ball near the shoulder. And if that was the ying, the yang was right around the corner.
So up marched Arrieta with two outs and nobody on in the top of the seventh to face reliever Tony Watson. And what unfolded over the next three minutes was a story better suited for Ring Magazine than the ESPN.com MLB page.
Watson's first pitch was a 93 mph fastball into Arrieta's derriere. Arrieta had a few thoughts he wanted to convey about that. Catcher Francisco Cervelli voiced several thoughts of his own. Watson stalked toward them. And next thing they all knew, the infield got kind of crowded.
"You know what was really awesome?" said Cubs special assistant Ryan Dempster with a laugh. "That, when that happened, our entire bench was out on the field before the Pirates even got out of the dugout. It was like, `Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You want to hit Jake Arrieta? What's your problem?'"
No need to run through the entire blow-by-blow. But at one point, Cubs catcher David Rossactually grabbed the throat of the Pirates'Sean Rodriguez, who then began firing haymakers in no particular direction. Which resulted in Rodriguez's getting ejected from a game he was already out of. Whereupon he took his delight out on an innocent Gatorade cooler that had no idea who Jake Arrieta even was.
Rodriguez portrayed himself afterward as pretty much the innocent victim, saying: "Somebody grabs you by the neck, do you really need an invitation [to start swinging] at that point?"
Hmmm. Decent alibi. But upon cross-examination, Ross pleaded innocence himself.
"He came charging at me," he said of Rodriguez. "I was trying to break it up, and I think he was, too. When he came at me, he put his hands on my chest, and my hands went straight to his throat. I didn't mean any bad intent. It just happened. It all happened so fast."
But as wild and crazy as it looked, there wasn't much doubt when it was over what got the Cubs so fired up. That was Jake Arrieta out there. And if there was a way they could seal him in protective, unbreakable glass until his next start, they'd be all for it.
"I'm trying to keep guys off our starting pitcher," said David Ross. "It's late in the game. You've got a high level of intensity going on. It's a crazy environment. We've got a four-run lead. The last thing I want to do is fight. But I don't want anybody messing with the guy who's dominating the game."
And that would be because all Jake Arrieta does these days is dominate every game. He's on a roll right now that feels even more rare than a Cubs World Series parade. To say it's historic doesn't even capture it. It's practically unprecedented:
In this game, he became the first pitcher ever -- right, ever -- to throw a postseason shutout with double-digit strikeouts and zero walks. Look it up.
He also became just the fourth pitcher ever to strike out 10 or more and throw a shutout in a winner-take-all postseason game. Perhaps you've heard of the other three to do it: Sandy Koufax in the 1965 World Series, Justin Verlander in the 2012 ALDS and Madison Bumgarner in last year's wild-card game in this very same park.
Over his final nine starts of the regular season, Arrieta went 8-0, with a 0.27 ERA and a .132 opponent batting average. And the Elias Sports Bureau tells us that since baseball began keeping track of earned runs over a century ago, no pitcher has ever had an ERA or opponent average that low of a batting average over a span of that many starts. And after this game, those numbers sit at 0.24 and .132. Unreal.
Since Aug. 1, 269 pitchers have allowed at least four earned runs in an inning. Meanwhile, Arrieta has also allowed four earned runs -- in two months. Over 13 starts. His 0.37 ERA over that span is the lowest in history by any pitcher, over that many starts, since the invention of earned runs.
And if the Cubs are starting to get the impression he's the closest thing there is to unbeatable, this might be why: Over Arrieta's past 14 starts, they're 14-0. Over his past 19 starts, they're 18-1. Is that even possible?
So you can understand why, when the Cubs found a way to score a run Wednesday night before the wild-card game was three hitters old, they were thinking life was good. After all, it's now been three weeks since their starting pitcher has given up a run. That last run was 31 innings ago, in case you'd lost track.
"I played with Clayton Kershaw last year," said Arrieta's rotation mate, Dan Haren. "And I thought that was the most amazing season I've ever seen. It's hard for me to compare because I've only been here for two months, since the trading deadline. But since I got here, he's given up four earned runs. So it's not just me who's never seen anything like this. Nobody has ever seen anything like it."
But you might be shocked to learn that it wasn't even that shutout that Arrieta was most proud of Wednesday night. One pitch after the brouhaha subsided and action resumed in the seventh inning, he took off for second and roared in with the fifth stolen base by a pitcher in postseason history.
"I might like that more than the CG," he chuckled afterward. "So I'm going to try and stack up some more against St. Louis."
So Yadier Molina, you're officially on alert. Jake Arrieta is coming. An awesome Cardinals-Cubs NLDS is just over the horizon. And now everybody knows what that means.