The best thing that happened to the Cubs over the weekend was not their champagne-soaked celebration at Wrigley Field on Saturday after clinching a wild-card berth the night before.
It was the way Jake Arrieta soberly took apart the Pirates’ batting order Sunday. While his teammates seemed to be trying to remember where they had parked their cars, Arrieta was his usual untouchable self. He gave up one hit in seven innings, picking up a 4-0 victory and salvaging the series against the Pirates. All with that long, almost pantomime of a delivery.
He’s the reminder to the Cubs that the party is over. And he’s the reminder to the Pirates that they’ll have to get through him if the two teams meet in a one-game playoff. Or, translated, good luck with that.
I’m always a bit uncomfortable with crazy celebrations after teams clinch wild-card berths. If you spray champagne at each other at the lowest rung of the postseason, where do you go from there? If I know Joe Maddon, probably to a petting zoo. He’d have the goats wearing swim goggles.
But this celebration had a little more weight behind it. This is a team that had matured faster than most people thought, and this is a fan base that … well, you know what you’ve been through. The Cubs haven’t exactly been on a first-name basis with the postseason.
Getting a wild-card berth is not like getting a participation trophy. You accomplished something, and you can accomplish more. Once in, you’re like everybody else. You have a chance.
Arrieta didn’t send a message to the Pirates on Sunday that he hadn’t already sent this season. He’s 3-1 with a 0.75 earned-run average against them. He has struck out 33 and walked five.
He’ll be ready. I’m guessing the champagne will be too.