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.”
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.