Cubs

Jake Arrieta comes up aces as Cubs ride World Series momentum back to Wrigley Field

Jake Arrieta comes up aces as Cubs ride World Series momentum back to Wrigley Field

CLEVELAND — The Cubs are a team that can make it hard to focus with so many big-money players running around, so much young talent bubbling up, all of Joe Maddon’s antics and ultimately so many different ways to beat their opponent.

That’s how Jake Arrieta going for a no-hitter in the World Series sort of became an afterthought on Wednesday night at Progressive Field. After getting shut out in Game 1, the Cubs lineup kept extending innings, making these Cleveland Indians pitchers work. Kyle Schwarber’s at-bats are becoming must-see TV, more than six months after shredding his left knee. Honestly, Arrieta hasn’t been giving off that same best-pitcher-on-the-planet aura.

It sometimes feels like these playoffs have revolved around Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber and how the next team up could be a matchup nightmare for the Cubs.

But this is exactly what a Cy Young Award winner is supposed to do, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, shutting down the Indians in a 5-1 win and tying up this Fall Classic before Wrigley Field stages its first World Series game in 71 years on Friday night.

Even if the Cubs had so much going on — mostly Schwarber-mania — that Maddon didn’t get a specific Arrieta question during the manager’s postgame news conference.

“When I looked up, I didn’t even realize there were no hits,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “He was just attacking them. It’s tough to hit in the cold, especially with his stuff moving all over the place. He’s going to produce a lot of weak contact. He did what he needed to do. After that first inning, he settled down, and it was nice to see Jake really have a good game.”

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Arrieta had a 1-0 lead in Game 2 before he even stepped onto the mound on a frigid night where it was 43 degrees at first pitch — which Major League Baseball had moved up an hour because of the heavy rains headed toward Cleveland — leaving him worrying about losing the feel of his fingertips.

Even during an All-Star season, Arrieta’s command has drifted in and out, and it didn’t look good with two outs in the first inning when he walked Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli in back-to-back at-bats. Cubs fans could breathe a sigh of relief when Jose Ramirez drove a flyball that stopped at the warning track in center field.

“I kind of had my foot on the gas a little too much at the start, trying to do more than I needed to,” Arrieta said. “Then I really got back to just executing good pitches towards the bottom of the strike zone. With the cutter going one way and the sinker going the other way, (I was) trying to be as aggressive as I could, and allow those guys to put the ball in play and let the defense work.”

Arrieta got locked back in from there, retiring eight batters in a row and 13 of the next 14. If the Indians are planning to start Cy Young Award winner Kluber two more times on short rest in this best-of-seven matchup — and unleash lefty reliever Andrew Miller at the most crucial moments — then the Cubs will need Arrieta to pitch like an ace.

Jason Kipnis — the Glenbrook North High School graduate who grew up a Cubs fan — ended Arrieta’s no-hit bid with one out in the sixth inning. Kipnis hit a ball into right-center field and hustled for a double, sliding headfirst into second base and eventually scoring on an Arrieta wild pitch.

With no chance to put a third no-hitter on his resume, Maddon gave Arrieta one more batter and pulled him after 98 pitches. Arrieta gave up one run on two hits and finished with six strikeouts before lefty swingman Mike Montgomery and star closer Aroldis Chapman got the final 10 outs.

If there were times last year where it felt like Arrieta had to be a one-man team, the Cubs now have an unrelenting lineup, the best defense in the game and a multidimensional bullpen, more than enough to win their first World Series since 1908. Wrigleyville will be absolutely rocking.

Fallout from Albert Almora Jr.’s scary foul ball incident, one year later

Fallout from Albert Almora Jr.’s scary foul ball incident, one year later

A year ago Friday, a foul ball off the bat of Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. struck a young girl in the stands at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

The young girl was rushed to the hospital and her family later revealed she suffered several head injuries as a result. The moment brought forth league-wide changes to protect fans from injury. 

One year later, here is a timeline of key dates in the fallout from the incident.

Fallout from Albert Almora Jr.'s scary foul ball incident

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How Cubs' Albert Almora Jr. regrouped after emotionally trying 2019 season

How Cubs' Albert Almora Jr. regrouped after emotionally trying 2019 season

Among the more interesting Cubs storylines sidelined with the rest of baseball during the coronavirus shutdown was the career restart center fielder Albert Almora Jr. seemed to promise after an emotionally trying 2019 season.

A tumultuous, wrenching 2019 season unlike any he had ever experienced in his baseball life.

“That’s a fact,” Almora said after a strong start in spring games, and just before professional sports across the country were shut down indefinitely in March.

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the harrowing night in Houston when Almora’s foul ball struck a young girl in the head, an incident that caused serious, lingering injuries, resulted in league-wide action to better protect fans and that in the moment dropped Almora to a knee, shaken and in tears.

TIMELINE: Fallout from Albert Almora Jr.'s scary foul ball incident

It was the most emotionally fraught moment in a Cubs season that was otherwise filled with competitive extremes that finished on a low note, off-the-field drama that finished with the release of a former All-Star shortstop and failed expectations that finished with the manager getting fired.

What followed for Almora was his worst performance as a baseball player, including a .215 average and .570 OPS the rest of the season, and a two-week demotion to the minors in August.

Almora has repeatedly denied his performance was impacted by that moment in Houston.

“No,” he said again this spring. “That’s an excuse.”

But the father of two young kids won’t deny that “it definitely impacted me.”

What’s certain is that by the time he returned to the team this spring, he had a new, quieter swing and a renewed mindset that had him in what he called a better place mentally.

A strong inner circle of friends and loved ones were part of the reset, he said, and in particular “just me listening and opening up to new advice.”

Almora, of course, did nothing wrong, and there was nothing he could have done to prevent the horrible moment — like so many other players and fans and similar moments at games that came before that one.

And while that knowledge won’t eliminate the emotions that might linger, one valuable outcome of the incident was near immediate action by the White Sox and Nationals to extend their protective netting to the foul poles at their ballparks — and MLB announcing in December all teams would expand protective netting by the start of the 2020 season.

Almora’s response, meanwhile, has been about just that — focusing on his response to the way his performance fell short last year, on the things he could change to regroup and restart a career that seemed on the rise until 2019.

“I’m glad [the struggles] happened,” he said. “You have to grow from things like that. You have two options: You can fold and let it beat you, or you learn from it and grow.

“I’m fortunate I had good people around me that gave me an easier chance to just turn the page, man. You hear that phrase a lot in this game: Turn the page, turn the page. But it’s hard. It’s hard when you’re constantly failing and constantly not performing the way you know you can and letting your guys down …

“It was tough,” he added. “And it’s not figured out. No one here figures it out. But you do the things you can control. … I’m in a good mental spot right now, and that’s all I can really ask for.”

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