HOUSTON – What do Jake Arrieta, Justin Grimm and Hillary Clinton all have in common?
That’s actually not a joke. And it’s definitely not pleasant.
But even as all three were forced to leave work early in recent days because of illness, Cubs pitcher Arrieta, at least, was able to stay strong enough, long enough on Sunday to get his job done.
The ailing Arrieta pitched into the sixth to help the Cubs beat the Houston Astros 9-5 to drop their magic number for clinching the division title to five games as they head to St. Louis for three against the second-place Cardinals.
“From the first pitch I was pretty much running on empty today,” said Arrieta (17-6), who nonetheless got through five effective innings before giving out in the sixth. “I give [reliever] Grimm a hard time for getting a bug, and then I seem to have gotten it yesterday.”
Arrieta got exceptional run support and even more impressive support from the fielders behind him as he took a 9-1 lead to the sixth before his work day ended with the following one-out sequence: hit batter, RBI double, single, wild pitch, another wild pitch, and a walk.
“I still anticipated to get out of that sixth unscathed, but I didn’t have anything left,” said the defending National League Cy Young winner.
Grimm, who was forced to leave Thursday’s game in Milwaukee after just one batter because of a similar flu-like issue, took over for Arrieta and – after walking the first man he faced to load the bases – got a pair of fly balls to center to escape the jam.
Along the way, second-year shortstop Addison Russell hit his 20th home run of the season, a two-run shot that pushed his RBI total to 90 – joining Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant among three Cub infielders to reach those thresholds this season.
“It’s pretty cool hitting 20 homers and having 90s RBIs, for sure,” Russell said. “But the season’s not over. We’ve still got some work to do.”
Despite Arrieta gutting out 16 outs, and the lineup scoring nine runs in the first four innings, “I think the defense was the name of the game,” manager Joe Maddon said.
“You talk about the offense was good. But we really played tremendous defense tonight, almost at every position.”
Catcher David Ross started it with a throw to nail George Springer trying to take second on a ball that squirted away from Ross for the first out in the first.
Then during one four-out streak from the fourth to the fifth:
- Left fielder Ben Zobrist made a running catch in the gap to take a hit from Evan Gattis;
- Arrieta pounced on a tapper near the mound and threw out Colby Rasmus as Rizzo made the stretch at first;
- Right fielder Albert Almora made a diving catch on a sinking liner by Marwin Gonzalez;
- And then Bryant picked a sharp drive to his backhand and threw out Jake Marisnick for the first out of the sixth.
“The defense was spectacular,” Maddon said. “You play defense like that you can win a lot of baseball games. That was beautiful.”
Notes: To get Jon Lester (16-4) into the upcoming Cardinals series, Maddon flip-flopped the left-hander in the rotation with sixth-starter Mike Montgomery, pushing Montgomery back to Thursday’s homestand opener against the Brewers. … Maddon said it hasn’t been determined whether Montgomery will get another start before the end of the regular season, but with one more off day on the schedule, the rest of the starting staff is assured of at least one more turn with an extra day of rest, regardless. … Lester’s personal catcher, David Ross, got a rare start behind the plate with Arrieta pitching, their first game as batterymates since May 8, “just to get him back on track with [Arrieta] in case that were to pop up later,” Maddon said. Rookie Willson Contreras had caught Arrieta’s previous four starts.