Two years ago, the Cubs defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card game, earning the chance to square off with the St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series. Jake Arrieta, fresh off his historic 2015 second half, shut out the Pirates for nine innings, striking out eleven Pittsburgh hitters and earning his place in Chicago Cubs lore.
One year ago, the Cubs evened up the World Series in Cleveland behind a barrage of offense, setting up a historic, unforgettable Game Seven. Jake Arrieta, having secured a victory in Game Two, tossed 5 ⅔ innings of two-run ball, striking out nine.
Tonight, the Cubs weathered a bizarre, late charge by the Dodgers, punctuated by an erroneously reversed non-foul tip call in the eighth, which resulted in Joe Maddon’s second ejection of the series. Jake Arrieta shoved, as he had done in big games over the past two years. In the end, Arrieta helped deliver a 3-2 victory, with Wade Davis gutting out the last two innings versus the heart of the Dodgers order.
While snapping off a curveball as sharp as I’ve seen from him, Arrieta struck out nine over 6 ⅔ tonight. Andre Ethier and Curtis Granderson, veteran lefties chosen by Dave Roberts to optimize the Dodgers’ chances for baserunners, struck out five times against Arrieta alone. Out of the gate, Arrieta established his fastball command, an important factor on a night where Arrieta exhibited all the signs of a man pitching his last game of the season. He moved the fastball in and out, inducing whiffs on the pitch, and drove the curve into the dirt when necessary. And did Arrieta release that cutter/slider hybrid—the pitch baffled Dodgers hitters all night. It was a fitting last stand for the Cubs’ bearded righty.
The offense decided to support Arrieta, too. Javy Baez ripped two home runs in the game, the first time a Cub has hit two homers in a postseason game since Aramis Ramirez in 2003, and Willson Contreras added one of the longest home runs I’ve seen in years. Baez’s performance snapped an 0-for-20 postseason, and the beloved infielder entered the annals of postseason lore himself by blowing a bubble as he admired his second dinger of the night. When Baez is on, he alters the game; the texture is just different, and it’s always worth watching.
About the Contreras homer: it went an estimated 491 feet, by far the longest of the postseason, banging off the Vienna Beef ad about two-thirds of the way up the left-field video board. The catcher, who had been removed from Tuesday’s game after being hit on the forearm while behind the plate, trotted around the bases leisurely, and Wrigley Field rocked from that point on. Almost every two-strike count that a Cubs pitcher handed to a Dodgers hitter resulted in 42,000-plus on their feet, cheering in what they knew might be the Cubs last game of the year. The tension would rise and fall (oh, would it rise!), but the Wrigley faithful latched onto every pitch as if it were the last.
Once Arrieta exited, the margin of error—which Joe Maddon narrowed unnecessarily so many times this series—dwindled once again, as managerial decisions begat difficult scenarios. This time, however, Maddon was not the one at the helm steering the ship cavalierly. After Maddon’s ejection, bench coach Dave Martinez assumed the managerial mantle, and Martinez’s decision to bat Wade Davis with a runner on and no outs in the ninth will be dissected to hell over the next 24 hours. Following a Jon Jay hit-by-pitch, Davis strode into the box, looking as uncomfortable as a hitter can be. The closer managed to foul off five pitches, an astounding number for a player who hasn’t stepped to the plate since the 2015 World Series, before striking out. The Cubs didn’t plate a run that inning, despite putting two runners on with only one out, and the one-run lead heading into the bottom half of the inning felt even thinner than usual.
Davis, with his breaking ball looking every bit as unhittable as Arrieta’s, escaped the ninth by double play, and the Cubs evaded a sweep at the hands of Los Angeles. Arrieta exits with the victory; the Cubs will have to do something only the 2004 Red Sox have accomplished in order to deliver Arrieta another start in pinstripes, and earn themselves another shot at baseball immortality.
Lead photo courtesy Jim Young—USA Today Sports