Arrieta’s Superman act takes day off, but Cubs ace still wins
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The kind of things Jake Arrieta has been able to do from a pitcher’s mound over the last 10 months have stretched the bounds of plausibility and credibility to such degrees that he spent much of the last week addressing steroid speculation from rival players and talk-show screaming heads.
So when his Superman pitching act took on a more Clark Kent appearance Thursday on the heels of throwing a second no-hitter in eight months, it seemed almost newsworthy when catcher David Ross pointed out:
“He is human.”
To be clear, Arrieta’s version of Clark Kent throws 94 mph with diving breaking stuff.
And the National League’s reigning Cy Young winner allowed only one run and earned his fifth victory of the season in Thursday’s 7-2 win over the Brewers at Wrigley Field.
But that one run, which scored with two out in the fifth, was the first he gave up in a regular-season game at Wrigley Field since July 25 – the last time he lost a regular-season game. His 52 2/3-inning home scoreless streak is a franchise record and second in major-league history (post 1900) only to Ray Herbert of the White Sox (54 in 1962-63).
Thanks to a “slightly erratic” sinker and 31-pitch first inning, Arrieta also saw his franchise-record streak of 24 consecutive quality starts snapped two short of Bob Gibson’s five-decade-old record. He was pulled from the game after five innings with his pitch count at 92 on a blustery, 45-degree afternoon.
“It wasn’t really worth it,” manager Joe Maddon said of the thought of leaving him in the game to hit in the bottom of the fifth with the Cubs leading 5-1. “Different game? Like 1-0, 0-0? Probably, yeah.
“I saw 92 pitches,” Maddon added. “I saw Jake Arrieta. I saw the Cubs trying to win a World Series. I saw the next five years of his career. I know his kids really well. All that stuff matter much more than breaking Gibson’s record right there.”
That didn’t mean Arrieta (5-0) wanted to leave the game at that point. There was a brief discussion with the manager.
“In this position last year, I might have been a little more frustrated with that decision,” said Arrieta, who then cited the weather, extra days between starts (one caused by Wednesday’s rainout) and 92-pitch grind. “It is the right way to go, and, obviously, our most important ballgames are still ahead of us.”
Even on this Kryptonite-tinged day, Arrieta allowed only two hits – only one until he was two outs deep in the fifth.
That one quickly put to rest any thoughts of matching Johnny Vander Meer’s feat of back-to-back no-hitters as Jonathan Villar led off the game with a broken-bat flare over the left side of the infield for a single.
“He got the ‘W,’ he’s 5-0, and I don’t think anybody’s worried about it around here,” said Ross – whose career-defying start included his second homer of the season, a Waveland Avenue shot leading off the second.
Ross, by the way, hit one homer all of last season. He added a walk in the sixth – one of a season-high 11 for the Cubs’ lineup – before being lifted for pinch-hitter Jason Hammel (seriously) in the eighth.
Arrieta, who played catch inside Wednesday night to help compensate for going six days between starts, didn’t truly struggle by most standards.
“It wasn’t sharp, but we got the job done,” said Arrieta, who matched Rick Sutcliffe’s 1984-85 franchise record by winning his 16th consecutive decision (0.58 ERA in that 17-start span).
The Cubs have won his last 18 regular-season starts, another franchise record. And he’s still 21-1 with a 0.89 ERA in his last 25 starts.
“Just because I gave up a run or the streak ended doesn’t mean I’m going to put a whole lot of thought into it right now,” he said. “It had to end at some point. But we’ll try and start another one.”
If anything, watching Arrieta handle Thursday’s bumps and divots after a week of scrutiny and social media trolling related to the performance-enhancer questions, Maddon has a right to feel even better about Arrieta’s season moving forward than if he’d cruised to another no-hitter.
“I think he handles those moments when he’s confronted really well,” said Maddon, whose ace also waged a Twitter duel with Pirates fans last fall before a dominant performance in Pittsburgh to win the wild-card playoff game.
“He’s very matter-of-fact. He’s very self-confident,” Maddon said. “He knows who he is. So when he answers the questions, he can answer them in a genuine manner and feel really good about himself. It’s a pretty good way to live.
“I think he’s got it down.”