He walked off, cap in the air, goose bumps coating his arms. The fans were on their feet, cheering. Jake Arrieta was so close to history, again.
On his 120th pitch, four outs from glory — and the third no-hitter in 12 days in professional baseball — Cubs starter Arrieta threw a 93 mile-per-hour cutter to Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew.
Drew, batting .143 this season, knocked the 2-and-2 pitch into right field for a single. The no-hit bid was done, and Chicago manager Rick Renteria walked to the mound to relieve his bearded starter.
As the pitcher walked toward Chicago’s dugout, most of the 37,814 fans in attendance stood and applauded: A standing ovation for an opposing pitcher at Fenway.
“That was awesome,” Renteria said after the Cubs’ 2-0 win Monday night. “I have to tell you: We were all gathered at the mound, and I looked at all these guys, and I said, ‘Look at this. That’s some kind of awesome.’ I tip my cap to everybody, because that was some show of respect out there. That was awesome.”
“Something like that in Fenway is pretty rare for an opposing team,” Arrieta said in the clubhouse after the game, rap music thumping through the speakers.
“That’s kind of why you play this game, is for moments like that. Very thankful to be part of something like that and to get another win.”
Yes, another win. Arrieta (5-1, 1.81 ERA) pitched 7⅔ innings Monday, striking out 10, walking one, and giving up the single hit to Drew. Nearly 63 percent of his career-high 120 pitches were strikes. If he had thrown a no-no, it would have been the first one against the Sox since Chris Bosio’s in 1993, and first time the Sox were no-hit in Fenway since 1958.
“[Cubs executives] Jason McLeod and Jed Hoyer mentioned to me, ‘You know, you’re the last guy to do that against Boston,’ ” said Bosio, now the Cubs’ pitching coach. “And I was like, ‘Well, we damn near saw one tonight.’ ”
They almost did in Arrieta’s last start, too.
On June 24, at home against the Reds, Arrieta took a perfect game into the seventh. He became the first Cubs pitcher to carry a no-hitter through six innings in back-to-back starts since at least 1974.
He is rolling — four wins in a row — and the Cubs are on board.
“He’s found his routine,” Bosio said. “He trusts his stuff. He’s matured as a pitcher.”
“He was commanding all his pitches on any count,” Renteria said. “He was throwing very easy. His delivery is spot-on right now. Made some great pitches, and basically just was very methodical in his approach.”
“The last three, four, five outings, he’s just been chipping away and getting better,” the manager added later. “So it’s nice to see another back-to-back outing like he had tonight.”
Arrieta employed a mixture of pitches to confound the Sox’ bats: fastball, sinker, curveball, slider, changeup. He retired the first 13 batters he faced, then walked first baseman Mike Napoli on six pitches with one out in the fifth inning.
As for letting the pitch-heavy Arrieta open the ninth had he gotten Drew, Renteria said, “I’m going to not speculate for you, but I would assume yes.” Arreita would have pitched the 14th no-no in Cubs history and first since 2008.
Arrieta said his bottom-of-the-zone sinker worked against the power hitters in the Sox lineup, such as Napoli and David Ortiz, and he kept his pitches on the edges against the entire lineup.
He utilized his changeup later in the game to create “speed differential” — and he routinely checked his pitch count during innings to make a mental note of how many more he had to work with that frame.
It all worked.
“He’s obviously commanding the zone,” Renteria said. “He’s obviously throwing strikes. He’s mixing all his pitches with effectiveness. He’s making pitches when he needs to. And he’s showing right now quite a bit of poise on the hill and some confidence.”
Against Drew in the eighth, Arrieta said his cutter was supposed to be down and away.
“Got a little lazy and kind of pulled it, left it middle-middle,” he said. “He put a good swing on it.”
“Memory in this game,” he said later, “has to be short.”
Still, he’ll likely not forget Monday night at Fenway, when the fans cheered and he walked off the mound waving his cap.Rob Harms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @harms__way.