ATLANTA – It wasn’t easy for Jake Arrieta to walk into that clubhouse Sunday with a loss next to his name for the first time in a regular-season game in 316 days.
Not so much because of the loss, or because it snapped a franchise-record 20-game winning streak for the Cubs’ ace.
It was the silence.
“Almost like a silence you can feel,” he said. “Not hearing the music in the clubhouse after the game is probably the thing that resonates the most.”
“Not wanting to hear silence,” he said. “That’s why you don’t want to lose. Because I hate that silence.”
The most dominant pitcher in the game over the last 12 months starts fresh Saturday in Atlanta, a mere-mortal 9-1 this season with a 1.80 ERA, and not a scoreless streak, win streak or no-hitter conversation in sight.
“Actually it might be a good thing in a way,” said manager Joe Maddon, who should hope so after Jason Hammel and company lost the series opener to Bud Norris and the hapless Braves 5-1 on Friday night.
“I’m sure he was aware of it the whole time,” Maddon said. “So now he gets a chance to start another one of his streaks. It’s probably a little bit lighter mentally to be on the front part of it as opposed to the back part of it.”
Until a no-decision in a loss two starts ago, the Cubs had won 23 consecutive games started by Arrieta, matching the longest streak in the majors in at least 100 years. Until Sunday, he was within four wins of matching Carl Hubbell’s big-league record for consecutive decisions.
“It’s DiMaggio,” Maddon said. “I mean, it’s Roger Maris, his hair falling out, come on.
“I don’t know anything. It’s just conjecture,” the manager added. “I just think getting away from whatever that streak was is going to permit him to just chill a little bit and move on to the next streak.”
Except for this: The streak’s not over. At least not the way Arrieta looks at it.
Arrieta still is pitching with the kind of nasty stuff that resulted in 12 strikeouts in five innings Sunday, and his velocity hasn’t waned.
And no matter how many legitimate All-Stars candidates this starting rotation has, Arrieta remains the ace – this team’s biggest reason for all its big October ideas this year.
No matter what Adonis Garcia and Tyler Flowers had to say about Hammel and a couple of hanging breaking pitches with back-to-back homers in the second inning. No matter how many consecutive times an Anthony Rizzo-less lineup went down in the middle innings against journeyman Bud Norris (10). No matter how many times Jason Heyward struck out (three) or Garcia reached base (four) or the Cubs walked in the game (none).
“It was a great ride,” Arrieta said of the streak. “I don’t think it’s over.
“The streak may have ended,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of really, really cool things we can still accomplish as a team and individually.”
And for what it’s worth, the process-minded Arrieta doesn’t buy Maddon’s theory about the streak weighing on him or being able to “chill” now.
“It just shows you how difficult it is to sustain something like that,” Arrieta said.
And yet, he made more than one reference this season to keeping the undefeated streak alive all season? Was he serious?