If the rest of the baseball world didn’t already know just how good Jake Arrieta is, they sure do now. After having dropped 4 straight, 2 each to the Giants and Dodgers, the Cubs were reeling a bit and in need of a little push. Enter Arrieta, a man who came into Sunday night’s game with a 0.54 ERA over his 5 previous starts in August.
All Arrieta did was make the Dodgers look silly, teasing them with a slider that dodged, ducked, dipped, dove, and dodged like a Patches O’Houlihan protege on the way to a career-high 12 strikeouts. Sure, it helped that LA wheeled out 1-2 hitters who each bat under .220, but I don’t know that Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn could have done anything against Arrieta tonight.
The no-hitter almost didn’t happen, though. Enrique “Kike” (kee-kay) Hernandez hit a shot in the 3rd inning that ate Starlin Castro up and was scored an error. Then in the 6th, Chase Utley’s corpse drove a ball to the track in left that was hauled in by Matt Szczur. And with two outs in the 8th, Hernandez hit a ball up the middle that tested Addison Russell’s range and arm; the play and the toss were true, and the no-no lived on.
Those three plays were honestly the only times Arrieta didn’t appear totally in control of the game, wiffling that cutting slider — or is it a sliding cutter — with unfair efficacy. Even Cubs fans had to feel a little bad for struggling rookie Joc Pederson, who was basically thrown to the sharks after having ridden the pine for the first two games of the series. “Hey kid,” I can hear Don Mattingly saying, “I know you’re scuffling right now, but I’m going to try to get you jump-started by having you take your cuts against the hottest pitcher in baseball. Cool?” Pederson might as well have been swimming with Jaws while his skipper chummed the water around him.
When it comes to precarious situations, though, it doesn’t get much more stressful than the late innings of a no-no. It’s tough to watch as a fan, so just imagine what a pitcher is going through. But Jake Arrieta as solid as they come, both physically and — more important in this situation — mentally. His demeanor betrayed not a touch of anxiety. Even his post-game celebration seemed a bit subdued, as he walked off with a fist pump. Sure, there were some “I am all that is man” primal screams as the team surrounded their ace, but you got the feeling Jake was like, “All in a day’s work.”
In keeping with that preternatural calm, Arrieta paused only briefly in his interview with Buster Olney as teammates doused him with iced Gatorade. His cadence didn’t waver and no smile brightened his bearded visage as he described what was only the 14th no-hitter in Cubs history. Of course, it’s probably easy to shrug off such a bath when the blood running through your veins is already sub-zero. That piece of ice on his ear as he walked away from the mic wasn’t from the cooler; that was actually a clot from a small cut.
That chill continued into the presser, where a pajama-clad Arrieta remarked that the best part of the game was “Just huggin’ the guys, seeing how excited they were for what I was able to do…that was special.”
“My stuff was pretty crisp from the get-go,” the humble ace continued. “I was able to get some good movement [on the fastball] early in the game.”
Asked to describe how he felt, Arrieta admitted: “I don’t necessarily know how to feel. I’ll try and reflect on this over the next several days, weeks, months.”
This is exactly why I like Jake Arrieta so much, and why I said a short while ago that he’s the clear choice to take the bump in a one-game playoff matchup. He doesn’t get too high or too low, doesn’t make light of things and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Arrieta is cold-blooded and he’s on a hot streak. He is a song of ice and fire and he has few equals in this game of throwns.
Arrieta has now won 6 consecutive starts and put up a 0.43 ERA over 42 1/3 innings in August, running his season marks to 17 wins and a 2.11 ERA (2.48 FIP). He has basically assured that the Cubs can never lose 5 consecutive games and the confidence of the team and the fans alike when he takes the mound is palpable. That will be huge as the Cubs now head into a home stretch that features 25 divisional matchups, 13 of which come against the Cardinals and Pirates.
Arrieta has place himself firmly in the Cy Young conversation, but if asked to talk about it I can guarantee he’d rather discuss his attempts to help his team get to the playoffs. He’s staid and he’s stoic, he’s a rock. And the rest of the league had better watch out when he’s rolling.