LOS ANGELES — During a casual conversation before Sunday night’s game against the Dodgers, Cubs catcher Miguel Montero helped handicap the National League MVP race.
He said he doesn’t like pitchers getting MVP love on the ballot but acknowledged rare exceptions like this year.
“If you go with a pitcher, you go to Arrieta,” Montero said.
A few hours later, Montero was behind the plate for the best view at Dodger Stadium of the best example yet of why Jake Arrieta is fast becoming one of the elite pitchers in the game.
Twenty-seven starts into one of the most dominating seasons by a pitcher, Arrieta got even better, pitching his first no-hitter to beat the National League West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0 at Dodger Stadium.
“It’s tough to put into words,” said Arrieta, his somber emotion belying the mustache-print pajamas he wore for the Cubs’ pajamas-themed redeye flight back home.
“You think about that all the time. And as a kid, you see other guys around the league do it, and you want to be part of it. So it’s not only special for me and my family and friends, but for the organization.
“It’s hard to put into words right now. Just hugging the guys, seeing how excited they were for what I was able to do. Special, very special.”
That’s the way hitters have described him almost since the day he arrived more than two years ago in a trade from the Baltimore Orioles as an unheralded right-hander.
As recently as Thursday, San Francisco Giants MVP catcher Buster Posey compared Arrieta to Dodgers Cy Young aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
The only difference between Arrieta (17-6) on this night and most of his other starts this season is that he took the no-hit stuff all the way — with the help of a pair of fielding gems from Starlin Castro at second base in the first and seventh innings and another by shortstop Addison Russell in the eighth.
If anything, Arrieta has become more dominant as the Cubs continue to push closer to their first playoff berth since the last season a Cubs pitcher threw a no-hitter — 2008, when Carlos Zambrano blanked the Houston Astros. The victory gave them a 5½-game cushion for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
“Every time he goes out he’s like Felix Hernandez. There’s a good chance he’s going to throw a no-hitter,” Montero said. “He works as hard as anybody in the game, and that’s his reward right there.”
“A different animal,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
Arrieta struck out 12, including all three in the ninth, and walked just one, with two outs in the sixth. He finished August 6-0 with a 0.43 ERA in six starts.
He finished off what Maddon called Cy Young Week — because of all the aces they faced — with his 14th consecutive quality start.
“Why not have him conclude it?” Maddon said of guy responsible for the only two wins the team managed on the six-game trip. “Maybe it’s a harbinger.”
Arrieta was on the losing end of the other no-hitter the Cubs were involved in this season, July 25 at home, when then-Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels shut down the Cubs.
Arrieta’s no-hitter was the 10th for a Cubs pitcher since 1900. His closest no-hit bid came last year in Boston, when he went 7‰ innings. He said he drew on that experience to help finish this one.
The only potential question surrounding this one involved whether a third-inning error on Castro should have been a hit. Kike Hernandez hit a line drive that short-hopped Castro as he slid in front of it.
Maddon and Castro said they were sure it was an error.
Arrieta said he thought at first it was a hit and didn’t know until an inning or two later he even had a no-hitter. By the time the game ended he was in such a zone, he had to ask teammates afterward how he got the final three outs.
“He really did,” teammate Dan Haren said.
After the final out, Arrieta said, “There was just a little relief, excitement, waiting for teammates to mob me, waiting for the Gatorade bath. That was a great feeling. Just a really special night for the team.”
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