Faced with rare bit of adversity, Arrieta prevails
By Cody Stavenhagen
CHICAGO -- Jake Arrieta came set in the sixth inning of Friday's 6-0 Cubs' win over the Pirates in one of those situations that separates good from great: Full count. Bases loaded. Two-run game.
Matt Joyce was at the plate and Arrieta was trying to complete a masterful escape after he walked the bases loaded with one out in the inning. His pitch count was at 111, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he wasn't worried. He had no better pitcher for the situation. Outfielder Matt Szczur agreed.
"I had full confidence in him and, obviously, he's got full confidence in himself, too," Szczur said.
Nearly everyone in the Wrigley Field crowd was on their feet and cheering as Arrieta threw a 93-mph sinker low and in to Joyce.
"I knew out of the hand it was a good pitch," catcher Miguel Montero said.
As soon as ball met leather, Montero leaped and headed for the dugout. Joyce was frozen as home-plate umpire Gary Cederstrom waited a second, then delivered a subtle strike-three call as the crowd roared.
Arrieta was out of the jam. Opposing hitters dropped to 0-for-9 against him this season with the bases loaded. And this proved to be what Maddon called a "seminal moment" in the win.
"He's so able to take a deep breath, step back and try to recalculate what's going on," Maddon said. "Some guys get in that moment and then it's just unraveling."
Arrieta joined Chris Sale as the only pitchers in baseball with 11 wins after his escape job kept his six scoreless innings intact. The right-hander struck out 11 batters despite struggling to command his cutter, and he said situations dictated the fact that he did not throw a single changeup.
The Pirates battled and ran up Arrieta's pitch count from the start, when John Jaso led off the game with an eight-pitch at-bat that ended in a strikeout.
Arrieta breezed through the fourth and fifth before trouble stuck again.
Pitches sailed up and out of the zone during his three straight sixth-inning walks. Montero noticed Arrieta's delivery flying open and his arm trailing behind his body. Arrieta and Montero have a system of hand motions to help correct such issues.
With the bases loaded, Arrieta fell behind David Freese, 3-0, but battled back to get Freese swinging on an inside sinker.
Against Joyce, Arrieta was down, 3-1, before he again fought back. The payoff pitch was the low sinker running inside that Montero had wanted to use on a full count against Polanco. Arrieta let that one slip into the dirt.
This time, in typical Arrieta fashion, he made the pitch when it mattered most. As Montero bolted for the dugout, Arrieta began a slow, confident descent off the mound. Never a doubt.
"Nothing like a little self-inflicted drama to get the fans going," Arrieta said.
Cody Stavenhagen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.