PITTSBURGH -- For the third October in a row, the Pirates ran into a season-ending buzzsaw.
In 2013, it was Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. Last year, it was Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. On Wednesday night at PNC Park, it was Jake Arrieta, who threw a four-hit shutout and struck out 11 as the Bucs lost, 4-0, in the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser.
The Pirates knew what to expect from Arrieta. That didn't make him any easier to hit. And it didn't make it any easier to accept another early October exit.
"It's definitely not fun. You want to win and continue to play on, especially when you've got a special group," third baseman Josh Harrison said, sitting in front of his locker. "But you understand that, you know, it's part of it. You know what? We had a good year."
For all the Bucs overcame and accomplished en route to a 98-win campaign, their season ended in exactly the way they hoped since Oct. 1, 2014, to avoid. That was the night Bumgarner silenced PNC Park, striking out 10 in a four-hit shutout in the NL Wild Card Game.
From that point on, the Pirates set their sights on winning the NL Central. In any other year, and in any other division, they probably would have. But they couldn't get past the 100-win Cards, forcing them to play a third straight win-or-go-home Wild Card Game at PNC Park.
And on Wednesday night, they once again couldn't get past Arrieta.
Arrieta was ahead of Pittsburgh all game. His first two-ball count came in the third inning; his first of only two three-ball counts came in the fifth.
"His stuff was good enough that he just kept you off-balance. He was in the zone for us to hit. We just missed him," first baseman Pedro Alvarez said. "We've got to tip our caps to Jake over there. He showed what he did all year."
Arrieta went 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA in five starts against the Pirates during the regular season. He finished the year on a historic tear, going 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA in the second half. Then Arrieta finished the Bucs' season.
"It's not like they didn't go out there and win the game. They definitely did," Gerrit Cole, Wednesday's starter, said. "We didn't give it to them."
But the Pirates couldn't take it from Arrieta -- just like they couldn't take it from Bumgarner last year, and from Wainwright in his complete-game effort in Game 5 of the 2013 NL Division Series. All they could do was tip their collective cap across the ballpark, recognizing what they were up against in the Cubs -- and their potential NL Cy Young Award-winning ace.
"Fantastic performance by him. Fantastic performance by the Cubs as a whole," Cole said. "Lot of respect for those guys. Lot of respect for the way they play the game. Wish them the best of luck."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.