LOS ANGELES — Jake Arrieta turned, watched Justin Turner’s bomb fly and, as the ball sailed over the fence in left-center, doubled over on the mound in disappointment.
His night was over. It was only the sixth inning — the score 4-0 in favor of the Dodgers — but the Cubs’ night seemed long finished, too.
Their season? No, it’s not over yet, though the stench of doom is wafting closer.
This was a Game 3 gut-punch from which this Cubs team might never recover. The Dodgers’ 6-0 victory gave them a 2-1 NLCS lead and as much momentum as the Cubs themselves had at any point during their 103-win regular season.
Arrieta was supposed to prevent that from happening. The Cy Young winner who’d thrown a no-hitter in his last appearance at Dodger Stadium — and was 6-0 with a 0.54 ERA over his last seven starts on the West Coast — was supposed to own the big-game stage opposite Dodgers starter and ex-Cub Rich Hill.
The Cubs needed him to play the role of ace. Instead, he fell behind 1-0 in the third inning and gave up home runs to Yasmani Grandal in the fourth and Turner in the sixth. Arrieta received zero support from a house-of-cards offense that deserves a large share of the blame for what happened here Tuesday. But facts are facts, and the Cubs have now lost the last three postseason games started by Arrieta.
Cubs fans likely are worried sick now that a team that was in first place all but one day of the regular season faces a series deficit. Arrieta offered a bold display of confidence at his locker after the game.
“I like our chances,” he said.
Not worried even a little bit?
“Not at all. We’ve got to win three before they win two. That’s it.”
The harsh reality of things, though, is that this series might not even make it back to Wrigley Field. The Cubs have entered must-win territory, needing a better result in Game 4 lest they want to face elimination at Dodger Stadium on Thursday — potentially against the best pitcher in the game, Clayton Kershaw.
Arrieta for sure won’t start again in this series unless it reaches Game 7. How strange it must be for him not to know if he’ll pitch again before 2017 — and how dispiriting it would be to watch things end having had no hand in the Cubs’ playoff success.
“I’ll pitch again,” he promised. “If I’m needed, if a game is on the line, I’ll be available. Tomorrow, the next day, whenever.”
Of course, Game 3 is when the Cubs really needed him.
Arrieta, for a long while in 2015 and into this season the most dominant pitcher in baseball — Kershaw included — now becomes the most Bunyanesque cheerleader in baseball. He’ll do what he can in support of the Cubs’ Games 4 and 5 starters, John Lackey and Jon Lester.
“I don’t think any of our guys are really having negative thoughts,” Arrieta said.
If bold talk is the order of the moment, fine. Seven or eight shutdown innings undoubtedly would’ve been a better way to go. But Arrieta is talking as though nothing is amiss with the Cubs — not even with their non-existent offense — as they chase an ever-elusive World Series ghost.
“I like our lineup at all costs,” he said, “regardless of the circumstances.”
It’s good to believe. Winning this series sure as heck can’t happen without that component.
But the Cubs believed so strongly that Arrieta would win Game 3, manager Joe Maddon talked openly about his plan to get ahead of the Dodgers early and make a series of defensive substitutions late. The day before Arrieta’s start, teammates described the look in his eye and the purpose in his stride.
Yet — speaking of “Bunyanesque” — all the talking that has been done about Arrieta as though he were some sort of mythical figure probably ought to just stop. He isn’t living up to it. Not many could.
His team isn’t living up to its billing, either, but we all can see that pretty clearly, can’t we?
“We feel good about where we’re at,” Arrieta said.
Glad someone does.
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