Jake Arrieta has emerged as a star this October, drawing comparisons to Joe Namath and Madison Bumgarner, making the Cubs believe he could become their answer to the 1969 New York Jets or last year’s San Francisco Giants.
The Cubs understood they had to split the first two games at Busch Stadium to give themselves a chance in this best-of-five National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Mission accomplished. Arrieta didn’t need to make any guarantees during Sunday’s news conference inside a cleaned-out storage room in the bowels of Wrigley Field. The Cubs can already hear the first-pitch roar for Monday’s Game 3 at The Friendly Confines.
“We’re pretty pumped about it,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “You can feel it in the clubhouse right now. There’s some energy. There’s some buzz. Having Jake on the hill? Man, I wouldn't want to have any other guy in the world right now.”
Michael Wacha made his first All-Star team this year – and was the 2013 NLCS MVP – yet he is still being viewed as The Other Pitcher.
Because the Cubs are undefeated in Arrieta’s last 14 starts, his 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break is the lowest in major-league history and he made it look so easy during last week’s complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card game.
“I’m confident in my ability to go out there (and) give us an outing that’s good enough to win the game,” Arrieta said. “Obviously on their side, Wacha has got the ability to be pretty darned good on the mound himself. You know, I just intend to keep us in the game, regardless of the circumstances, whatever comes up.
“But I like my chances to go out there and win us a ballgame.”
A reporter pointed out that Arrieta lost six times this year, including May 7 at Busch Stadium, and asked if he had any particular memories from that game.
“I don’t remember anything about it,” Arrieta said, his eyes darting around the room for the next question.
The Cubs are still guaranteed nothing with Arrieta on the mound.
Clayton Kershaw – a three-time Cy Young Award winner and last year’s NL MVP – is 1-6 with a 4.99 ERA in 12 career playoff games for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
David Price – a five-time All-Star who had gone 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA since getting traded to the Toronto Blue Jays – gave up five runs and lost Game 1 to the Texas Rangers in their American League division series.
“Your weaknesses and your mistakes are exposed at a level maybe slightly above where they would be in the regular season,” Arrieta said. “Everybody’s attention to detail, everybody’s focus is at such a high level that when those little mistakes are made, the opposing lineups are able to capitalize on it.
“A lot of the times (with) David and Clayton, their stuff is so tremendous that they’ll get away with mistakes. But it’s a little bit different in October. It seems like (everybody’s) mentality is in that sweet spot (where) they’re not really fazed by anything.
“Sometimes it happens with momentum changes in the game, the atmosphere, the crowd noise. But everybody is pretty locked in at this point in the season. And that’s why the good teams still remain.
“You really, really got to be on top of your game to have success.”
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When the Cubs acquired a Triple-A pitcher from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, no one thought Scott Feldman would become the answer to a trivia question or Arrieta would be mentioned in the same breath as the best pitchers on the planet.
“I’ve been through a lot in my career,” Arrieta said. “The failure that I’ve gone through makes me really appreciate the moments of success much more. I’ve had some pretty dark times in this game in my career. But I was dedicated to getting over the hump, to putting in the time, the effort, making any adjustments necessary to get to this point.
“I don’t think anything bothers me anymore.”