Guaranteed: Jake Arrieta silences Pirates, delivers wild-card win for Cubs


Guaranteed: Jake Arrieta silences Pirates, delivers wild-card win for Cubs

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."

[MORE CUBS: On to the next one: Schwarber, Cubs dismantle Pirates in wild-card game]

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.”

[WATCH CUBS: Rizzo: 'We know how to enjoy the moment, and that's what we're doing right now']

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.”

[WATCH CUBS: Montero: 'We got on the board early, I think that's a game changer']

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.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.