Fans’ belief Cubs will win Game 3 may be as historic as Jake Arrieta’s pitching
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You want some pressure?
Become Jake Arrieta right now, preparing for the biggest game of his life, one of the biggest games in Cubs history.
The old saying is that Game 3 of a tied-up five-game series is the critical game, the one that swings the pendulum for good.
If Arrieta can win Monday at Wrigley Field against the St. Louis Cardinals, it means the Cubs only have to win one more game to advance to the National League Championship Series, and the Cardinals must win two without losing any.
And the real pressure? Everybody in the vast realm of the Cubs Nation — from Wrigleyville to Pigleyville, from sea to shining sea and thereon into the outer universe — expects Arrieta to win.
Not just expects. Knows. Is dead solid certain. Would stake their lives on it.
After all, the guy is historically unhittable. His numbers and successes and unbridled dominance virtually guarantee a win.
Arrieta just had the best pitching season in Cubs history. His second-half numbers are so ridiculous that even a first-ballot Hall of Famer such as Greg Maddux never came close to this stuff. It’s possible Arrieta’s final charge was the best ever in baseball history going back to when statistics were first kept in the early 1900s.
How does a 22-6 regular-season record sound, with an ERA of 1.77? How does giving up four earned runs for the months of August and September and zero in October sound, counting playoffs?
How about just 14 walks in his last 12 games? How about going 15-1 to finish the regular season — 16-1 when you add the wild-card win over the Pittsburgh Pirates?
It just goes on and on. Arrieta is dialed in the way a hungry wolf is dialed in on a wounded rabbit. It’s reached the point where it doesn’t seem fair.
The transformation of Arrieta from an average pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles — a 29-year-old who spent six years going back and forth to the minors — seems almost magical.
Like, where is the fairy godmother? The pixie dust? Dumbo’s feather?
No matter how it happened, Arrieta is now a near-perfect pitching machine. And he doesn’t plan to change anything for Game 3. It may be the pivotal NLDS game, but to him it’s just another night at the ballyard.
‘‘I think it’s foolish to approach it any other way,’’ he said Sunday after manager Joe Maddon’s ‘‘Breakfast at Wrigley’’ workout and banquet.
Arrieta, with his 6-4, muscular body, Abe Lincoln beard and stony glare, isn’t easily intimidated. He went so far as to trash-talk Pirates fans who’d taunted him on Twitter.
‘‘Well, I mean, that’s just certain people’s opinions,’’ he said of the Twitter smack-fest. As for this game? ‘‘I like my chances to go out there and win us a ballgame.’’
If he performs as he has — as he can — he will have written himself not just into Cubs history but into Cubs fans’ hearts.
It is an axiom that pitchers have failed the Cubs in postseason play going back to 1908. Well, it’s never all just on the pitcher, the sad losses to end every Cubs season for 106 years. But the pitchers’ bad work has been notable. Bad work that was worsened because the pitchers sank, rather than rose, to the occasion.
Ryan Dempster, a control pitcher, gave up seven walks in an NLDS Game 1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008. Fireballing reliever Carlos Marmol and starter Ted Lilly both failed in the 2007 NLDS.
In 2003, it was superstars Mark Prior and Kerry Wood falling down in the NLCS.
In 1984, ace Rick Sutcliffe couldn’t snag the deciding Game 5 against the Padres in the NLCS.
Then we get back to stuff in 1969, when the Cubs never made it to the postseason after swooning in September to the Mets. Cubs pitchers faded at the end, likely from day games and overuse by nasty manager Leo Durocher. Starters Bill Hands and Ferguson Jenkins pitched more than 300 innings. Dependable loser Phil “the Vulture” Regan was a plucked bird by October.
And so the glory is out there, waiting for Arrieta. Of course, the Cubs must hit. And their defense must stay solid. Because they will need it all. The Cardinals are a ferocious organization, one that chews up other teams’ would-be heroes.
The pressure’s on. And Arrieta knows it and shrugs.
“I’ve been through a lot in my career,” he said. “Some pretty dark times. So I don’t think anything bothers me anymore.’’
We’ll find out soon enough.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.