They had been within a game of the 2003 World Series. They were ahead 3 games to 2 and up 3-0 with 6 outs to go. Then cane an infamous 8-run 8th by the Marlins, then a loss the next night. The Cubs would go on to lose all 3 NLDS games in both 2007 and 2008. Last night’s 4-0 Cubs win in Pittsburgh ended that 8-game playoff losing streak.
The Cubs got off to a quick start facing Pirates’ ace Gerrit Cole. Dexter Fowler got his first of 3 hits, stole second and scored on a single by Kyle Schwarber. Two innings later, the Cubs’ rookie launched a Cole pitch into the Allegheny River with a man on to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Two innings later, Dexter Fowler ubnloaded another blast for the final run. But thanks to Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, the night’s excitement wasn’t done.
Arrieta came in with 22 wins this season, the most a Cubs pitcher had won since before Watergate. Ferguson Jenkins won 24 in 1971. Arrieta used a combination of great ability, an extra large strike zone and stark fear to keep the Pirates at a safe distance. he hit two of them in back-to-back innings, the fifth and sixth. Although the media felt it wasn’t intentional, any fan knows that kept other Pirates from crowding the plate, lest they take a 95-MPH fast ball to the ear. With the Pirates not able to crowd the plate Arrieta could take advantage of the expanded strike zone offered by the home plate umpire. The best chance the Pirates had was in the sixth inning, when they had the bases full with a man out. Starling Marte hit into a double play to end the inning. In the visiting 7th, things got crazy for a while. Pirates’ reliever Tony Watson hit Arrieta in retaliation for the two Pirates hit in the fifth and sixth innings. Arrieta directed a few well-chosen words at Watson and the benches emptied to the delight of the 40,000 in attendance. A good brawl can spark up even a bad ball game. Two men were ejected, though neither one was named Arrieta or Watson. Pirates’ backup catcher Sean Rodriguez got the thumb from the umpires and took his frustration out on a water cooler. He later said Cubws catcher David Ross had grabbed him by the neck and was trying to choke him. Things calmed down after that. The Pirates again hit into a double play to end the 7th inning and never came close to a rally after that.
One thing I’ll give the Pirates. Their crowd was into it from the word “Go,” and they were roaring for all they were worth in the sixth when the home team had the bases full. On Monday, I overestimated the involvement of the Yankee fans who would be in attendance at their wild card game played on Tuesday. For one thing there were far more empty seats than there were at Yankee playoff games in the 1990’s. Also, what people were there had all the excitement of a snappy funeral, particularly once the home runs started flying. Not so last night in Pittsburgh. The fans gave all they had for their team in black and gold. They know Jung-Ho Kang will be back next year, after being injured in a game with the Cubs in September. They hope the rest of the team can stay together, and that ownership might add a bat or two in the off season. They don’t have the annual expectations of Yankee fans, so they don’t have the bitterness with their team following its second straight shutout loss in a wild card game.
What’s On Today
The two American League division series begin today. In the earlier game, at 3:30 Eastern, the Rangers take on the Bluejays in Toronto. This should be the most hitting-intensive series of the four, since neither team’s bull pens are anything special. Neither team had to play a wild card game, so their starting pitching is set up as well as it can be. Toronto will start David Price, who they got for a song from the Tampa Bay Rays. Price has been 9-1 since moving north of the border. Surprisingly, he’s never done well in the postseason, going 1-5 while pitching for the Rays. Texas counters with Yovanni Gallardo, who hasn’t given up a run in two starts against the Bluejays, both of which he won. He pitched in the 2011 playoffs with the Brewers.
Later tonight, the Astros and Royals will meet in Kansas City. The Astros had to use Dallas Keuchel to beat the Yankees in the wild card game, so they’re counting on Collin McHugh to pitch tonight against the Royals’ Yordano Ventura. Ventura has been as hot for the Royals as Price has for Toronto, going 9-1 since being recalled from AAA. Both National League division series begin tomorrow, with the Cubs in St. Louis and the Mets in Los Angeles.0