Remembering Jake's No No
The weather outside is finally frightful, as the song goes, so we turn to the hot stove for comforting thoughts of baseball and summer time. Many recent VFB postings look forward to next summer and dreams of a championship. But today, I want to look back to one very extraordinary game last August 30. That night, Jake Arrieta no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers allowing only two base runners, while striking out twelve hitters. It was a dominating performance and only the fourteenth no-hitter in the Cubs’ history.
It was both likely and unlikely to happen. The stage was set for Arrieta. He was peaking and everyone in baseball knew it. The second half of the ’15 season, Arrieta was the best pitcher on the planet. By the latter days of August, Arrieta’s name was being tossed around as a serious Cy Young candidate, even though Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke were both enjoying Cy Young –worthy seasons themselves and had out-pitched Arrieta the first half. Yet, that Sunday night of August 30, the Cubs played on national TV (ESPN) and Arrieta had everyone’s attention. He had 14 consecutive quality starts, going 5-0 during August, heading into the final game of the series in Los Angeles. Baseball people knew that Jake had a no-hitter in him. During the ’14 season, he had taken a no-hitter into the 7th inning three separate times. No Cubs pitcher had done that in decades.
But a no-hitter is always unlikely. And the Dodgers had been no-hit only ten nights earlier, when Mike Fiers blanked the Dodgers and left them hitless in Houston. How unlikely was it that the western division leading Dodgers could be no-hit twice in a ten day period?
More than that, the no-hitter is simply a rare and special thing in baseball. As mentioned, there had been only thirteen in the Cubs’ 144-plus years before Arrieta’s no-hitter. Only eight of those occurred in the modern era (after the beginning of play in the World Series in 1903). And the majority of the Cubs’ no-hitters can be characterized as strange, at least in some of the circumstances. The last one before Jake’s was Carlos Zambrano’s unusual no-hitter in 2008 against the Astros, a home game for the Astros, but played in Milwaukee because Hurricane Ike was threatening Houston. Before that was Milt Pappas’ bid for a perfect game in September 1972. He lost the perfect game when he walked pinch hitter Larry Stahl on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth. Pappas preserved the no-hitter when he induced the next batter to pop-up to second, but losing a perfect game with two outs in the ninth had never happened before in a major league baseball game. Pappas was preceded by Burt Hooton’s 1972 no-hitter in only his fourth major league start. Hooton was preceded by Kenny Holtzman’s two no-hitters, one in ’69 and the second in ’71. In the ’69 game, Holtzman did not strike out a single hitter. In the ’71 game, he scored the only run of the game. So, the Cubs’ history with no-hitters was littered with weird occurrences.
But there was nothing weird about Arrieta’s baseball performance against the Dodger’s last August. It was masterly. The game began with a promising top of the first for the Cubs. Kris Bryant hit a two run homer to put the Cubs up and it looked like the Cubs might have a good offensive night. Then Jake went to work. He neatly avoided trouble early, while he appeared to get stronger and stronger. He sat the first six hitters down with no hint of worry and he was throwing all of his pitches for swinging strikes.
In the third, however, Arrieta benefitted from a close call that might have been more controversial if it had occurred in the later innings. Kike Hernandez hit a sharp one hopper directly at Starlin Castro at second base. Castro tried to make the play on the short hop, but failed to stay down. The ball bounded up and off Castro’s mid-section to his right and he could not retrieve it in time to make the play. You can see it here http://m.mlb.com/news/article/146416620/starlin-castro-says-he-made-error-in-no-hitter .
Jerry White, the official scorer, ruled it an error. ESPN News later reported that White saw the play four times: once live, once on replay and twice in slow motion and had no doubt that Castro’s misplay was an error. Adrian Gonzalez, however, claimed after the game that several Cubs admitted to him that the play could have been ruled a hit. Jake graciously conceded the same after the game.
After that play, Arrieta allowed only one more runner when he walked Jimmy Rollins with two out in the sixth inning. Thereafter, Jake was in command and seemingly became stronger each inning. Castro contributed a nice grab of Carl Crawford’s line drive up the middle to end the 7th. And Addison Russell made a quality play to throw out Hernandez on a hard ground ball, which Arrieta failed to snag in the 8th. Arrieta capped off the game by striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth. He finished efficiently with 116 pitches thrown. It was a classic performance by a gifted power pitcher at the top of his game. Cubs fans are unlikely to see a better performance in a long time to come.
Not to be forgotten is that Arrieta made Bryant’s homer in the first hold up. Although the Cubs had men on base numerous times during the game, they failed to score after the top of the first. The final score was Cubs 2 – Dodgers 0.
After the 27th out, things finally got weird in the best Cubs’ tradition. Jake appeared for his post game interviews in a one-piece pajama suit. By happenstance, Joe Maddon had scheduled a PJ party for the flight home to Chicago after the game. It was another unconventional step in our unconventional manager’s successful campaign to keep things loose during the pressure of the run up to the post-season.
Jake’s PJs were decorated with moustaches and he was happy to appear before the cameras decked out in his night wear. I guess the Cubs should have expected nothing less on that unusual night in an unusual season for an unusually talented pitcher.