Behind another beautiful performance on the mound by pitcher Jake Arrieta and the clinical hitting of Kyle Schwarber and Dexter Fowler, the Chicago Cubs are back in the playoffs, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, their division rivals, 4-0 in the Wild Card game.
Their next opponents? Another division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, who finished first in the NL Central. But the Cubs have a day to get ready while recovering from celebrations. And there was plenty to celebrate for a team that’s been close to rock bottom in baseball for the last few years, slowly rebuilding towards this moment, now looking like as good a team as any other to go all the way and win the World Series, something that hasn’t happened for the Cubs in other a century.
For the last few months and especially the win over the Pirates, it was about Arrieta and his pitching. The hottest player in the league made his postseason debut a memorable one, playing all nine innings, striking out 11 batters and allowing only four hits and not walking a single Pirates batter. Pittsburgh couldn’t get anything going the entire night, giving up three runs early, and knowing how good Arrieta has been this summer, it was almost like an impossible mission to get back.
Fowler and Schwarber took care of business early. In the first inning it was a single from Schwarber that put Fowler on the scoreboard, and in the third inning it was a crushing two-run homer from the right fielder to put the Cubs three runs in front. When Dexter Fowler hit his home run in the fifth inning to make it 4-0, the soul and hope was already sucked out of both the Pirates and the home fans, waiting for the miserable end that included the Cubs celebrating and the Pirates showing their immeasurable frustration.
One way to be frustrated was Sean Rodriguez picking on a Gatorade cooler. It wasn’t surprising to see him frustrated. He was a surprise inclusion in the lineup at first base for Pedro Alvarez. But Rodriguez didn’t even get to the plate once in the game, as something of a meltdown by manager Clint Hurdle, unable to avoid panicking seeing things not going his way. He put in Alvarez to pinch hit for Rodriguez instead of dropping a struggling Gerrit Cole early, and got nothing for it but more swings and misses.
The Pirates also sparked a mini brawl after Tony Watson hit Jake Arrieta in the 7th inning with a pitch. Benches cleared following the nasty fastball, but besides some pushing and shoving there wasn’t much to note. Watson was the only one issued a warning, and rightfully so. Arrieta ended up pitching the first complete-game shutout for the Cubs in the postseason since Claude Passeau tossed a one-hitter in the 1945 World Series against Detroit.