PITTSBURGH — Jake Arrieta wanted it loud, and that’s exactly what he got on Wednesday night at PNC Park, all those Pittsburgh Pirates fans chanting “Ar-ri-e-ta! Ar-ri-e-ta!” on cue in the first inning.
Leading up to this do-or-die game, Arrieta had responded to Pittsburgh fans over Twitter and lit the match on social media, saying all the decibels wouldn’t matter, another sign of a confidence level that borders on complete arrogance.
Arrieta backed up his big words yet again in this National League wild-card showdown, dominating the Pirates in a 4-0 complete-game victory that really didn’t create all that much drama after so much buildup.
Sure, there was a wild benches-clearing, bullpens-emptying mosh pit after Pirates reliever Tony Watson drilled Arrieta’s left hip with a purpose pitch in the seventh inning. And you felt glued to your seat, because of this all-or-nothing format and a Cubs season that has been so unpredictable.
But Arrieta is at the top of his game now — just ask him — a pitcher in total control, putting up 21 consecutive quality starts and 31 scoreless innings in a row.
“I relish that situation,” Arrieta said. “You got 40,000-plus fans, most of them Pittsburgh fans. They’re out for blood. That’s what I expected. But I was still able to keep my composure and make big pitches, regardless of the noise factor. And that’s what I anticipated doing."
The Cubs feel invincible with Arrieta on the mound and had already scored the first run before he threw a single playoff pitch.
If that didn’t feel like game over, it almost did when Kyle Schwarber flicked his bat to the ground and watched a Gerrit Cole pitch fly over the right-field seats and out of this beautiful waterfront stadium for a two-run homer in the third inning.
Arrieta suffocated a Pirates team that won 98 games and wound up stuck in a wild-card game for the third year in a row. The Pirates scored four runs — three earned — across 45 innings against Arrieta this year.
“Talk about bull riding,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sometimes you draw a tough bull.”
On Wednesday morning, a group of guys taking a cigarette break on Penn Avenue noticed the Cubs fans outside a downtown Pittsburgh hotel.
“Arrieta’s due for a bad game,” one called out.
[WATCH CUBS: Maddon: 'Jake was spectacular, obviously']
At some point, the law of averages will have to begin to even out and Arrieta will wake up from this dream season and stop being the hottest pitcher on the planet.
But the Cubs will ride Arrieta’s right arm as far as they can, with the next stop being Busch Stadium for a best-of-five division series that begins Friday against the hated St. Louis Cardinals.
During the postgame news conference, when a reporter mentioned his stuff hadn’t been as “crisp” — those two hit batters nearly sparked a brawl — Arrieta immediately fired back: “I’m not sure what game you were watching.”
Afterward, manager Joe Maddon said the pitch count would have been “infinity,” but Arrieta needed 113 bullets, allowing just four singles and finishing with 11 strikeouts against zero walks.
“It’s a pretty big moment,” Maddon said. “It’s either you win or you go home, and you guys and ladies (in the media) have heard him speak about this moment in advance and how confident that he was. Some people considered it like almost on the braggart side or flagrant. But for me, it’s self-confidence. (And) Jake is a different cat, man.
“(Joe) Namath guaranteeing the Super Bowl victory — that’s all I could think of the last few days. Just sitting in the lounge chair by the pool with all those reporters surrounding him. I was a big Namath fan in ’69.”
Arrieta carried the Cubs on his broad shoulders, getting the franchise back to the postseason for the first time since 2008 with a Cy Young Award-level performance (22-6, 1.77 ERA).
The Cubs hadn’t won a playoff game since Game 4 of the 2003 NLCS against the Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium, but the atmosphere around this team feels so much lighter now.
So when Arrieta loaded the bases in the sixth — hitting Josh Harrison and watching Addison Russell commit an error at shortstop — he calmly got Starling Marte to ground into an inning-ending double play.
That silenced the largest crowd to ever watch a baseball game at PNC Park (40,889), completely tearing down the wall of sound that had been building for only a few moments.
And then tempers flared again in the seventh inning. Arrieta held onto his bat and stared at Watson, but the eye-for-an-eye form of justice didn’t surprise him at all. He got a small measure of revenge by stealing second base.
“That s---’s awesome,” Arrieta said. “I might like that more than the CG. I’m going to try and stack up a few more in St. Louis.”
Right now, it looks like it will take a superhuman effort to beat Arrieta in October. The Cubs haven’t lost a game he started since July 25, when Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field.
“I’m still trying to process everything,” Arrieta said. “I haven’t had time yet. After the no-hitter (at Dodger Stadium), we had a big series coming up. I had to prepare for the next one. And right now, we’re going to enjoy this for the night, probably into tomorrow, and then I’m going to get ready for St. Louis again.
“I think at the end of the season — hopefully a World Series — I’ll sit down with friends and family and teammates and really enjoy it.”
Drenched in champagne and smoking a victory cigar inside the visiting clubhouse, it sounded like Arrieta was joking when he said this, but who knows with a fitness freak like this?
“I’ll work out twice tomorrow,” Arrieta said.