LOS ANGELES — The Elias Sports Bureau doesn’t keep track of this stuff, but Jake Arrieta has to be the first guy in baseball history to throw a no-hitter and get this question at the end of his postgame press conference: “Can we get a shot of the pajamas?”
Or this: “Whole body shot?”
Arrieta stepped off the stage inside Dodger Stadium’s interview room on Sunday night, gave the thumbs-up sign and posed in his gray striped onesie covered in moustaches. Obviously.
It always felt like the Cubs would have a bad loss whenever they tried to do these dress-up trips or rookie hazing (on their way to finishing in last place). But as everyone knows by now, this year, in so many ways, is different.
Arrieta is a new billboard for the Cubs: Supremely confident, uber-talented and not waiting around for the future.
You could only imagine how raucous it would be inside that airplane flying some 1,700 miles home from Los Angeles after this 2-0 victory over the Dodgers that elevated the Cubs to 19 games over .500.
At the end of a tough West Coast trip, manager Joe Maddon dressed up in his pajama flight suit and used “Top Gun” as an inspiration: “I Feel the Need — The Need for Sleep.”
But everyone inside the clubhouse looked completely wired after Arrieta’s masterpiece, which included 12 strikeouts against one walk and zero moments where it looked like he would be in trouble.
Miguel Montero — who also caught Edwin Jackson’s no-hitter with the Arizona Diamondbacks against Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 — stood at his locker with a bottle of champagne in hand and didn’t want to stop talking about Arrieta.
“To be honest, every time he goes out, he’s like Felix Hernandez,” Montero said. “There’s a good chance he’s going to throw a no-hitter.
“I told him I was proud of him. He worked his butt off. He works as hard as anybody in the game. That’s his reward right there. Hopefully, there’s more to come.”
Arrieta basically called his shot in spring training, saying he should keep putting himself in position to throw no-hitters after last year’s breakthrough season.
Arrieta had a perfect game going against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field last June until Billy Hamilton singled up the middle. In his next start, Arrieta was four outs away from a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox and got a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at Fenway Park.
Arrieta almost did it to the Reds again last September, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning before Matt Szczur just missed making a spectacular catch on a ball Brandon Phillips drove into left-center at Wrigley Field.
“As the game wore on, I kind of tried to use those past experiences to my advantage,” Arrieta said. “Stay calm and maintain the focus on just going out there and trying to execute quality pitch after quality pitch. The defense was really good behind me.”
For all the goofy stunts to help keep the team loose — Simon the Magician, American Legion Week, etc. — the Cubs had already developed a competitive edge on the pitching side before Maddon’s arrival.
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Arrieta had spent parts of the 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons on the Triple-A level before blossoming in Chicago with that trade from the Baltimore Orioles.
“He’s going to enjoy this tonight,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “There’s going to be, I’m sure, a big-time party in Chicago and some celebrations going on. But knowing him, Day 2, he’s going to get organized and ready and start preparing for his next start.
“He’s done so well going pitch-to-pitch, preparing start-to-start, he’s become a student of the game.”
Arrieta starts became must-see TV, to the point where no one around the Cubs would be surprised by a night like this, seeing it as a matter of when, not if.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted for a long time,” Arrieta said. “I’ve been close on a couple of occasions. Just fortunate everything aligned tonight and was able to get it done.”