Padres pitcher Yu Darvish showed bunt, but his Cubs counterpart wasn’t going to let him move the runner so easily.
Cubs starter Jake Arrieta threw back-to-back sliders, and Darvish fouled off both. But with a pair of strikes on him, he was forced to swing the bat.
In the Cubs’ 3-1 victory Wednesday, the pitchers’ duel included a more literal battle between the two starters in Arrieta’s last inning on the mound. He finally struck out Darvish, after the Padres right-hander fouled off seven pitches.
As entertaining as that at-bat was, Arrieta and Darvish’s pitching matchup was even more captivating: A pair of former Cubs aces locked in for the rubber match.
“Runs were going to be at a premium today,” Arrieta said after allowing just one run in five innings Wednesday. “Obviously, Darvish is really good. He's tough to beat every time he's out there. So, had to limit damage.”
A diagram of Arrieta and Darvish’s careers would show two crisscrossing points. The first came in their 2018 free agency. On the cusp of signing Darvish, the Cubs called Arrieta with an offer, “take it or leave it,” as Arrieta described to the Chicago Sun Times a few months later.
Arrieta left it, and he left Chicago after a stint that included a Cy Young award and World Series.
Fast-forward a few years to this offseason, when the Cubs sent out Darvish, fresh off an NL-Cy-Young-runner-up season, in a trade to the Padres. The Cubs later signed Arrieta as a free agent.
In a stroke of serendipity, Darvish’s first start against the Cubs since the trade fell on Arrieta’s day.
While Darvish sported a Top-5 ERA (2.25) in the National League entering Wednesday, Arrieta had hit a recent rough patch.
Arrieta threw just 5 2/3 innings in his last two starts combined. Against the Reds on May 30, he allowed five runs (three in the first inning) and left the game with two outs in the fourth. At San Francisco last week, Arrieta gave up six runs in the second inning and said he threw up before and after the outing.
“With … how he only gave us two innings but a lot of pitches and dealing with the sickness, you never know how his (next) start’s going to go,” Ross said Wednesday. “I thought he really had the game under control there and gave us a nice start.”
The Padres scored their only run Thursday with back-to-back singles in the third inning. But Joc Pederson got back a run for the Cubs the next inning with a solo homer, his team’s first hit of the game.
Ross said he might have let Arrieta throw past the fifth inning if the bullpen didn’t have an off day to recover Thursday. Arrieta punctuated his strong outing with three straight strikeouts in his last frame, beginning with a nine-pitch battle against Darvish.
“He attacked the strike zone,” Ross said of Arrieta. “It looked like the ball had real bite to the finish underneath the zone. A lot of strikes.”
Darvish lasted two more innings. But he also gave up one more run – walking Ian Happ, giving up a single to Patrick Wisdom and getting Antony Rizzo to ground into a double play that brough Happ home.
Once the teams’ respective bullpens took over, Cubs relievers held the line, retiring 12 Padres batters in order. Cubs infielder Sergio Alcántara tacked on another run with a solo homer in the eighth inning.
“Winning the series on the road against these guys, after we swept them at home, that was really big,” Arrieta said. “That says a lot about our team.”