The Ricketts family knew they’d gotten a pretty good bargain when they purchased the Cubs for nearly a billion dollars back in 2009. What they didn’t realize was that it would turn into a two-for-one deal seven years later. That’s because it appears that the Cubs have taken ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Saturday’s 8-2 victory was the North Siders’ seventh straight over their division opponents, a streak that has seen the Cubs amass a +34 run differential (45-11).
I should note here that the two teams will square off 14 more times, so the Pirates will have plenty of opportunities to even things up. Heck, if they outscore the Cubs by 27 runs at Wrigley on Sunday, the two will be even on the season. Well, except for their records.
Saturday’s game was a microcosm for the year on the whole, as the Cubs drew 5 walks and pounded out 11 hits, including two home runs, forcing the Pirates to throw 156 pitches. On the flip side of things, Jake Arrieta was great again en route to his 7th win against no losses. The reigning Cy Young went 8 innings and allowed only 2 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks. He also struck out 11 men.
Things got a little interesting in the 4th inning, however, as Arrieta found himself in a spot of trouble with both the Pirates and their fans. Andrew McCutchen led off the frame with a double and Gregory Polanco followed with a single and subsequently stole second to put two men in scoring position with none out. Starling Marte struck out, but Francisco Cervelli singled to drive home both runners and put the Pirates up 2-0. With Jung Ho Kang batting, Arrieta uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Cervelli to advance to third. And then the fun started.
Most people would think it’s pretty asinine to plunk a batter when you’re down two runs to a division rival, particularly when there’s already a runner on and you’ve only got one out in the inning. But at least a few Pirates fans were convinced that Arrieta had it in for Kang. What’s more, they were really hoping for retaliatory action from Jeff Locke in the bottom of the frame.
I don't advocate violence, but I wouldn't mind seeing the #Pirates brawl with the Cubs. Must stop getting treated like crap.
— Matt Maisel (@Matt_Maisel) May 14, 2016
Pirates MUST retaliate after Arrieta plunks Kang. Clearly on purpose. Bucs can't just sit there and take that against a rival.
— Cory Giger (@CoryGiger) May 14, 2016
Yes, I'll say it again. Locke should have plunked a Cub. Not just about today. Similar to how Bucs-Reds devolved over time with guys hit.
— Cory Giger (@CoryGiger) May 14, 2016
And lest you think I’m singling out innocent meatball fans, those tweets came from a television news reporter for Fox 43 in Central PA and an Altoona Mirror sportswriter, respectively. My memory’s a little foggy, so maybe one of them can remind me of how beaning Arrieta worked out during the Wild Card game last season.
Oh yeah, that’s right.
You can understand how the Pirates and their fans may have been feeling pretty good about having the upper hand on the Cubs, though, particularly when it was Jake Arrieta against whom they’d built a lead. They were, after all, 37 percent of the way to becoming the first team to earn a win against the Cubs in Arrieta’s last 20 starts. If only the other 63 percent of the game didn’t have to go and screw it up.
The rapid and complete decline started with Josh Harrison hitting into a double play to end the Pirates’ half of the 4th and bring the Cubs up to effectively end the game. Locke had obviously misinterpreted the media imperative that he hit someone, because he immediately allowed a hit to Jason Heyward (who’s riding a six game hitting streak after a 3-for-4 day). Kris Bryant walked to set the stage for Anthony Rizzo, who gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead they’d not relinquish with a towering tater to right.
Locke then stocked the barrel of the hot-hitting Addison Russell in the 6th when he caught way too much of the plate with a changeup. If you just saw the numbers, you might not be all that impressed by a homer that traveled only 378 happy feet and just cleared the LED board atop the wall in left. But when you consider that the ball was hit into the teeth of the wind and that Russell turned an 81 mile per hour pitch into a 103 mile per hour hit, well, you realize just what a feat it really was. Good-not-great, huh?
The Cubs would go on to push three more runs across and turn the game into a bit of a laugher, but there’s nothing funny about how seriously Pirates fans are taking this rivalry.
Okay, there’s actually a whole lot that’s funny about it. Pittsburgh was supposed to inherit the mantle of best team in the Central from the Cardinals. They were supposed to reverse 20 straight losing seasons and become one of baseball’s elite teams. Instead, they’ve been bounced in consecutive Wild Card games and have been relegated to rented mule status by a team they’d regularly pounded over the past few seasons. So you can see why folks in the Steel City might be a little bitter.
Better get used to it, Cubs fans. This is what Joe Maddon meant by that whole “embrace the target” business, though I don’t think he was necessarily trying to prep fans for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I’d love to tell you that you should act like you’ve been there before and to comport yourselves with high-minded humility, but that would be all kinds of disingenuous. Thing is, you haven’t been here before. Hell, the Cubs built a post-game party room into their new clubhouse, so there’s no reason for you not to revel in their success.
When it comes to the Bucs, it’s starting to feel like those times my son gets really upset and wants to come at me and I just keep him at arm’s length and chuckle while he flails and yells. I’d like to see that continue. I do feel kinda bad for those guys, though, so I’ll offer a bit of advice for the remainder of the season:
Try not to suck.
Update: Jake Arrieta responded to Matt Maisel’s idiocy with definitive awesomeness.
— Jake Arrieta (@JArrieta34) May 15, 2016