ST. LOUIS – When the Cubs returned home to Wrigley Field after Jake Arrieta’s second no-hitter, veteran catcher/media go-to guy David Ross stood in front of his locker and listened to a question about whether or not he had seen anything like this before.
Surrounded by reporters in the new state-of-the-art clubhouse, Ross immediately cited two other examples he witnessed up close during a big-league career now in its 15th and final season: Kris Medlen and Eric Gagne.
This is not at all suggesting that Arrieta is heading toward Tommy John surgery or a performance-enhancing drugs scandal or a steep drop off the cliff. But Medlen’s narrow window of greatness and Gagne’s game-over flameout shows the Cubs can’t take Arrieta’s brilliance for granted.
Arrieta proved he’s not a cyborg on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium, even as the Cubs hung on for a 9-8 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and won his 23rd consecutive regular-season start.
Since 1913, only three other pitchers had seen their teams win 22 straight starts, according to STATS Inc.: Carl Hubbell (New York Giants, 1936-37); Whitey Ford (New York Yankees, 1950-53); and Medlen’s 23-start run with Ross and the Atlanta Braves between 2010 and 2012.
“I don’t take it for granted,” Ross said. “When you look at the daily performance, you see him just carrying you as a team. You can’t take that for granted, because you realize it’s special. It almost adds a little bit to your energy level, because you’re expecting great things from him and you don’t want to let him down as a teammate.
“You’re like: ‘I’d better bring my A-game, because this is our stud and he’s doing some special things and I want him to keep doing these special things.’ We don’t ever want to think that one of our guys have a chink in the armor. You just want them to keep rolling.”
Medlen appeared in only two games for the Braves in 2011 and underwent a second Tommy John procedure on his right elbow in 2014. He earned a World Series ring with the Kansas City Royals last year and is now on the disabled list with rotator cuff inflammation.
Ross also caught Gagne during the 2003 season where the Los Angeles Dodgers closer went 55-for-55 in save chances and won the National League Cy Young Award, part of a run where he converted 84 consecutive saves.
Gagne needed the Tommy John reconstruction of his right elbow in the middle of the 2005 season, bounced around to three different teams, showed up in the Mitchell Report (featuring a due-diligence e-mail from Theo Epstein to a Boston Red Sox scout) and later admitted to using human growth hormone.
Again, this is simply a reminder to appreciate what you’re watching here.
This was the first time Arrieta allowed a regular-season run in the first inning since May 29, 2015 against the Royals, according to Comcast Sportsnet Chicago stats guru Christopher Kamka, and the first time he allowed four runs in a regular-season game since June 16, 2015, or Kyle Schwarber’s big-league debut.
“I’m not a big numbers guy, but I watch how he makes really good major-league hitters who get paid a lot of money (look),” Ross said. “He makes them look not very hitter-ish. I just read the swings – and the takes even.
“Guys are taking fastballs down and away with two strikes like it surprises them. And I know that’s what 90 percent of us are looking for when you get two strikes, just trying to make some contact. The ball explodes out of his hand because he hides it so well.”
Which made it jarring to see Arrieta give up his first home run in more than six weeks when Randal Grichuk drove a ball over the right-center field fence and into the St. Louis bullpen in the second inning. Pitching coach Chris Bosio quickly visited the mound during a stoppage in the fourth inning. Left-handed reliever Travis Wood warmed up in the bullpen during the fifth inning.
Arrieta escaped that bases-loaded jam when third baseman Tommy La Stella made a diving stop to his right on a Grichuk groundball and threw to second base for the third out. That was it for Arrieta, who threw 93 pitches and watched his ERA soar from 1.29 to 1.72.
“I walk to the park a lot, so you hear people talking,” Ross said. “It’s funny. It makes me laugh when you’re at a restaurant or something and you hear them talking about: ‘Yeah, Arrieta’s going today, maybe he’ll throw a no-hitter.’ It’s not that easy, people!
“But you feel that energy in the atmosphere. And you know the other team is going to bring their best, because they understand they’re facing one of the best in the game, if not the best.”