CHICAGO -- Jake Arrieta was brilliant once again, throwing seven scoreless innings and striking out nine in the Cubs' 4-0 victory over the Pirates on Sunday night at Wrigley Field. The right-hander not only carried a perfect game into the seventh, but he also hit a solo homer to support his cause.
"I talked about it earlier in the year," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose club will next face American League Central-champion Kansas City in a makeup game Monday at Wrigley. "I thought there was another level to him. I think you're seeing that right now."
Arrieta threw his 19th consecutive quality start and picked up his Major League-leading 21st win in the process, becoming the first Chicago pitcher to win more than 20 games since Ferguson Jenkins won 24 games in 1971. Gregory Polanco broke up Arrieta's perfect game with his single to lead off the seventh inning, but he was one of three Pittsburgh batters to reach base all game.
"I was just looking for a pitch I could put a good swing on," said Polanco. "[Arrieta] just has very good stuff, and he mixes it well. Every time I've faced him, he's thrown to me differently."
The Pirates, whose deficit to St. Louis for the top spot in the NL Central remained at three games in advance of the two clubs' three-game series starting Monday in Pittsburgh, couldn't back starter A.J. Burnett, who, in addition to passing the 2,500 mark for career strikeouts, threw his 16th quality start of the season. Burnett allowed two runs in six innings. Kris Bryant's RBI single in the first got the Cubs going as they moved 4 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh for the NL's first Wild Card spot.
It was the fifth time Arrieta has carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning this season. He improved to 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA in five starts against the Pirates this year, and is on schedule to start the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser should the two teams meet again.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED What can't he do?: Arrieta hasn't needed much run support when he pitches, and when he does, he provides it himself. The Cubs' ace hit his second home run of the season in the second inning, a shot to right field. Since July 12, Arrieta has hit both his home runs. He has also allowed two home runs in that span. He nearly missed a second home run in the sixth inning, hitting a ball to the center-field wall, where Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen leaped up to make the grab.
"I got two pitches in the one spot that you shouldn't throw me," Arrieta said. "Normally anything outside of that area, I'm swinging and missing. I put a couple good swings together." More >
A first for A.J.: The game's second inning was No. 2,720 of Burnett's career. And he did something he never had done before, surrendering a home run to a pitcher. Since that pitcher was Arrieta, it put the Pirates into an insurmountable 2-0 hole.
"Almost made it out without one of those," said Burnett, who is committed to retiring after this season. "He's a good hitter, though. He almost got another one."
Missed it by that much:Starlin Castro thought he had a three-run home run in the seventh inning, but he'll still take the two-run double. Umpires originally ruled a home run for Castro, but a review showed the ball fell inches short of the overhanging basket, with the hit scoring Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson. Castro is now hitting .398 with 14 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs in his last 30 games.
"I've just been confident and kept my head up and my mind strong," Castro said. "I've been through a lot of bad things that make me think too much sometimes. I never put my head down. I know my talent, I can trust my talent. I always have confidence that good things are coming up."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Burnett's first-inning strikeout of Jorge Soler was career No. 2,500, the 31st pitcher in MLB history to reach that milestone; Burnett ended his six-inning stint with four more whiffs, leaving him four short of passing Christy Mathewson on the all-time list.
"That's very rewarding," Burnett said of 2,500 strikeouts, which he had conceded as a goal early this season. "It means you've been around this game for a while, and done some good things."
Aramis Ramirez, a member of the Cubs from 2003-11, played his 617th and final game in Wrigley Field. He went 0-for-3 to finish 689-for-2,246 (.307) at the Friendly Confines.
"I know all the other guys are really good, and I know I'm his manager, but I have never seen anything like that, and nobody else has either. That normally would equal a pretty good award, I would think." -- Maddon on Arrieta's candidacy for NL MVP Award in addition to the NL Cy Young Award.
"It's pretty exciting. There's still work to be done. At the same time, it's nice to put a little thought into it, and then try to move forward and continue to pursue the goals we've set for ourselves and look back on these things once the season is over."-- Arrieta on whether he thinks about the MVP possibility and his numbers this season.
"You go 8-2 on a 10-day road trip, that's a very positive trip. A lot of good things are going on. Guys are confident and in a good place. We ran into a tough draw tonight, and we'll move on. We'll go home and play the team we're hunting." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Pirates successfully challenged a sixth-inning call that Miguel Montero was safe at second on a steal attempt. The call was reversed after a very quick review. Montero, the Cubs' catcher, had claimed his first stolen base in four years on Sept. 16 in Pittsburgh.
A crew-chief review in the seventh inning confirmed that pinch-hitter Austin Jackson had walked on the fourth ball thrown to him. Lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo believed he had thrown only three balls to Jackson, prompting the Pirates to ask for the review -- which did not cost the Bucs their challenge.
And the Pirates did indeed use that challenge to turn Castro's three-run homer into a two-run double in the seventh.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Left-hander J.A. Happ will take the lead in the biggest regular-season series in PNC Park history when he faces the Cardinals at 7:05 p.m. ET Monday. Earlier this month, Happ blanked the Redbirds on three hits for seven innings in a 9-3 Pirates win in St. Louis.
Cubs: In their final home game of the regular season, the Cubs make up a game from May 30 when they host the Royals on Monday night. Kyle Hendricks (7-7, 4.23 ERA) takes the mound hoping to build off his last start, when he allowed three runs over six innings. First pitch from Wrigley Field is slated for 7:05 p.m. CT.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. Greg Garno is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.