Back in 2015, Jake Arrieta made the first postseason start of his career in the wild-card game. Coming off a regular season for which he’d ultimately win the Cy Young, Arrieta threw a five-hit complete-game shutout against the Pirates. A year later, he took the ball in Game 6 of the World Series with the Cubs down 3-2 and held serve while his teammates torched Josh Tomlin for six runs in 2.1 innings.
On Wednesday night, Arrieta made his third win-or-go-home start, and for the third time, he won. Arrieta isn’t the lights-out pitcher he was in 2015, and this start was sloppier than that wild-card game, with five walks and a hit batter in 6.2 innings, but it more than got the job done. With the Cubs still down 3-1 and scheduled to face Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Yu Darvish in their next three games, they’re likely to lose the series. And with Arrieta headed to free agency after the season, this could be his last start in a Cubs uniform.
He made it count.
The Cubs opened the scoring in the second inning with a Willson Contreras home run bomb that came off the bat sounding like someone hitting a set of claves with a sledgehammer. At 491 feet, it was the longest postseason home run recorded by Statcast since its introduction in 2015.
But scoring has never been the problem—the Cubs have drawn first blood in each of the four NLCS games, and they lost the first three because they couldn’t keep the Dodgers from coming back on them. When Cubs manager Joe Maddon took Arrieta out in the seventh inning, the Chicago crowd booed, fearing another bullpen meltdown.
And they almost got one. Closer Wade Davis entered the game needing to preserve a 3-1 lead for six outs—he allowed a home run to Justin Turner, the first batter he saw, and took 17 pitches to record his first out. Six days earlier, Davis went 2.1 innings and 44 pitches for a save in Game 5 of the NLDS, his longest outing since converting to relief full time in 2014. He needed 48 pitches to get six outs and a ninth-inning double play to avoid facing Turner a second time, when Turner would’ve represented the go-ahead run.
Along the way, Davis struck out Curtis Granderson, but after some prodding by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, the umpires discussed whether Granderson had fouled the pitch off. After a long conversation, and in direct contradiction to what the video replay showed, they ruled that he had, prompting Maddon to run out of the dugout screaming, “That’s fucked up!” and become the first person ever ejected from two games in the same playoff series.
Far from a counterpunch, this was an escape, a matter of the Dodgers running out of outs before the Cubs ran out of pitchers. But Chicago will gladly take it. And if this is the last memory Cubs fans have of Arrieta in blue pinstripes, it’ll be a good one.