LOS ANGELES — Jake Arrieta cemented his status as one of the game’s best pitchers with this no-hitter, still hitting 96 mph in the ninth inning, using his brute force and analytical sense to make the Los Angeles Dodgers look helpless.
Arrieta screamed and flexed his muscles after burying another slider, striking out Chase Utley for the exclamation point to this 2-0 victory. Arrieta strode from the mound and into the arms of Cubs catcher Miguel Montero.
The mosh pit formed around Arrieta, who made baseball history on Sunday night at iconic Dodger Stadium, in front of a national-television audience and in the middle of a pennant race that has re-energized this franchise and a starving fan base.
Arrieta is a huge reason why baseball matters in Chicago this summer, why the Cubs could be playing deep into October, this year and beyond.
What a way to end a difficult West Coast trip and return home to Wrigleyville with a 5 1/2-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card.
“It’s something everybody wants,” Arrieta said. “Every kid thinks about it. Little League, high school, college, minor leagues, you think about it. It’s almost impossible not to, because everybody that plays this game wants to accomplish great things.”
The Dodgers had no chance against Arrieta, who struck out 12 of the 29 hitters he faced and allowed only six flyballs, throwing 80 of his 116 pitches for strikes. He lowered his ERA to 2.11 and now leads the majors with 17 wins.
“He has that kind of stuff nightly,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s really crazy. The ball looks like a Wiffle ball. Even from the side, you can see the break on the slider, the cutter and the curveball. Right now, he’s just pitching on a different level regarding velocity and movement.
“And he deserves it. If you watch this guy work — I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody work any harder.”
Arrieta is a fitness freak with a Pilates routine and 4 percent body fat. He’s also a student of the game who believes in visualization, inhaling all the data and breaking down hitters on video.
During a postgame toast inside the visiting clubhouse, Arrieta turned to teammate Dan Haren and asked: How did I get the last three outs?
In front of a big crowd (46,679) that sensed the moment, Arrieta struck out Justin Turner, Jimmy Rollins and Utley to end the game in a blur.
“He was locked in,” Haren said.
“Everything happens so fast,” Arrieta said. “The sequences are happening so quickly that from time to time you have a hard time replaying (it).”
The 10th no-hitter in franchise history since 1900 will be replayed forever on some future Cubs network. Carlos Zambrano threw the franchise’s last no-hitter in 2008 against the Houston Astros at Milwaukee’s Miller Park in a game relocated because of Hurricane Ike.
The only quasi-controversial call came in the third inning when Kike Hernandez smashed a ball directly at Starlin Castro. It took a short hop and bounced off the second baseman for an error.
“That’s an error,” Castro said. “If it hits my backhand, maybe it’s going to be a hit. But it’s right on me. I didn’t even move anywhere.”
“Initially, I thought it was a hit,” Arrieta said. “It was a tough play (and Hernandez) hit it pretty well. I thought it could have gone either way. I wasn’t aware that it was an error until an inning or two later. It was kind of out of sight, out of mind.”
That’s the laser focus Arrieta has developed since that trade with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, a year that saw him make 15 starts on the Triple-A level at the age of 27.
Arrieta has now made 14 straight quality starts, and the last Cub to do that was Greg Maddux in 1992, the first of his four straight Cy Young seasons (and last one in Chicago).
Theo Epstein’s front office took a chance on Arrieta’s raw talent and a strong coaching staff — Chris Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode in particular — has allowed that natural ability to flow.
“Of course,” Arrieta said, that Scott Feldman trade will be a defining moment in his career. “It was approaching that period of time when I was with Baltimore that I knew things might happen. And they did.
“I was embraced by everybody. Everybody made me feel extremely welcome, and the comfort level was there from the get-go. It was like a seamless transition.
“I came over here and started doing some things I knew I was capable of doing to help me be more consistent. The momentum just continued to roll.”
Like on Sunday night, when Castro made a nice play while grabbing Carl Crawford’s line drive to end the seventh inning. And there was new franchise shortstop Addison Russell ending the eighth by charging a chopper up the middle and making an off-balance throw to first base to get Hernandez.
“We want every ball hit to us,” Castro said. “After the fifth inning, we said: ‘We got this.’ Because that guy is nasty. Every time. It’s unbelievable.”