Chicago Cubs' fans expected nothing more than just a small step forward this season in the long dreaded process referred to as rebuilding. What they got was nothing short of fantastic. The team of young rookie sluggers and a deep pitching rotation finished the season with a 97-65 record, the third best in the league. Also worth mentioning is the historic second half performance of Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, who finished the season with a major league best 22 wins and an ERA of 1.77. Arrieta added on to his Cy Young type season with a complete game shutout in the Cubs’ do-or-die wild card 4-0 victory against the league’s second best team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pitching for the Pirates was their ace Gerrit Cole.
The Cubs jumped on Cole and the Pirates early after Kyle Schwarber drove in Dexter Fowler with a single in the first inning. Through two innings Arrieta struck out three of the seven batters he faced surrendering only one hit to Andrew Mccutchen.
One of the key plays of the night came in the 3rd inning when Cubs rookie outfielder Kyle Schwarber hit a 430 foot moon shot home run that cleared the right field bleachers with ease. The home run brought in Fowler and gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Fowler then followed up with the game’s last run with a solo home run in the 5th inning.
Arrieta remained dominant throughout the entire game retiring 10 batters in a row over a 4 inning span before hitting Francisco Cervelli with a pitch in the 5th inning. However, Arrieta did have one complication as a single, error, and hit-by-pitch loaded the bases for the Pirates with one out in the 6th inning. Arrieta left the jam with no runs after a pitch perfect 6-4-3 double play was turned to end the inning. The double play killed any momentum the Pirates had and gave the Cubs defense an extra spark.
Tensions spilled over in the 7th inning when Pirates reliever Tony Watson hit Arrieta in the hip with a 95 MPH fastball. Given the fact that Arrieta had already hit two Pirates batters and it was the first pitch in the at-bat, the pitch that hit Arrieta did not appear to be an accident. Arrieta exchanged a few words with Watson and the dugouts cleared not long after. The skirmish consisted mostly of just shoving between teams and one attempted thrown punch by Pirates backup first basemen Sean Rodriguez. Following the incident, Rodriguez took his anger out on a water cooler in the dugout before he was ejected for his role in the fight.
Both offenses remained quiet for the last few innings of the game and Arrietta remained dominant on the bump as he finished the game with 11 strikeouts, four hits, a shutout, and the first Cubs playoff win since game 4 of the 2003 NLCS. Now that the wild card game is past, the Cubs can focus on defeating another division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the NLDS best of five series which starts Friday, October 9th in St. Louis. Jon Lester will start for the Cubs on the mound facing off against his former teammate in Boston, John Lackey. Arrieta is projected to pitch in game three at Wrigley Field for the Cubs.