PITTSBURGH – Jake Arrieta will have to wait another day to become a 20-game winner.
On this day he settled for giving the Pittsburgh Pirates another eight innings worth of incentive to catch the Cardinals and avoid a loser-out playoff rematch with the Cubs and Arrieta.
Falling short in his bid to become just the Cubs’ second 20-game winner in the last 23 years, the team’s ace nonetheless continued his season-long mastery of the Pirates – allowing just one earned run before the Cubs eventually won 3-2 in the 12th inning on Anthony Rizzo’s sacrifice fly.
He’s got one more regular-season date with the Pirates at home next weekend, before a likely Oct. 7 rematch in a winner-take-all wild-card game at the same place.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I’ll be ready.”
Wednesday’s start was the first time in nine starts – the first time since July – that Arrieta didn’t earn a victory.
But it was the fourth time in four starts he has throttled the Pirates this season, pitching no fewer than seven innings in any of those starts and allowing no more than one earned run (0.93 ERA).
The Cubs have won all three of his starts at PNC Park (Arrieta 2-0, 0.82 in those games).
“When he’s bad, they only get one run,” said second baseman Starlin Castro, who drove home a run with a squeeze bunt in the sixth and ended a Pirates scoring threat in the ninth with a diving play toward the middle to start a double play.
“When he’s pitching we just pray to score a run right away,” Castro said. “It doesn’t matter if we score four or score one, with that guy on the mound we’ve got a lot of confidence and a lot of trust that we’re going to win.”
In fact, a big reason the Cubs are playing significant games in mid-September is because they’re 22-8 (.733) when Arrieta starts this season (62-53, .539, when anyone else does).
As he’s tightened the Cy Young race in the National League with every start he’s made since the All-Star break (9-1, 0.95), the Cubs have crept closer to their first playoff berth since 2008.
Their magic number for clinching a berth dropped to 10 (any combination of Cub victories or Giants losses) – while they closed to three games behind the Pirates for home-field in the wild-card game, with four meetings left.
Arrieta and Co. seem especially comfortable against this team this year (9-6, including wins in two of the first three during this four-game series).
“I feel comfortable against anybody,” Arrieta said. “The team that I’m facing on any given day isn’t really something I put a lot of time and effort into. I just try to scout and do my homework as well as I can and kind of go from there.
“Three games in the series thus far, three one-run games. These guys play very sound, fundamental baseball. They’ve got guys at the top of the order who can manufacture things and get on base for guys later in the order to drive them in.
“They’re very balanced, they’ve got a lot of weapons, and we play them tough.
“We know what we’re up against in our division, but I don’t think it bothers us at all.”
The only thing that seemed to bother Arrieta on this night was his lobbed overthrow of first base for a run-scoring error on what should have been the final out of the sixth inning.
“Inexcusable,” said Arrieta (19-6, 1.96), who reached 200 innings for the first time in his career. “Even though we won the game, that’s going to bother me for a while. That’s just kind of personally the way I am. Luckily, we were able to pull it out and come out on top.
“I’ll use that for future reference and not let it happen again.”