While Jake Arrieta's no-hitter was up in the air, so too were his former teammates.
On Sunday night, after finishing a seven-game road trip against the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, the Baltimore Orioles were in transit from Dallas to BWI at the exact same time that the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers were squaring off in L.A. on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. As a result, they didn't get to watch any of Arrieta's history-making performance. At least not on TV. But that doesn't mean they weren't paying attention to it.
Beginning in the sixth inning, reliever Brian Matusz started getting automated updates on his phone telling him that Arrieta had a no-no working. He got another update in the seventh, then another in the eighth. Each time, he would share the screen with his teammates.
Then, just as the bottom of the ninth was about to start, the Orioles' flight started to make its descent into Baltimore. As a result, Matusz and his teammates lost connectivity and missed the first two outs of the inning. According to Matusz, they touched down just in time for the final out.
Were they surprised that Arrieta pulled off the no-hitter? Hardly.
"He's a beast," said Matusz, a former starter who came up through the Orioles' organization with Arrieta. "Just a bulldog."
"I feel like he should have 10 [no-hitters] by now," said starter Chris Tillman, who spent parts of three minor league seasons with Arrieta at Triple-A Norfolk. "That's how good his stuff is. Go back and look at all the games here. As a young guy, he'd have a no-hitter through five and lose it. But his stuff was just as good."
Tillman said Arrieta's stuff has always been that good.
"Even when we were coming up in the minor leagues," Tillman said, "Jake had the best stuff I'd ever seen. The best makeup, the best physically, the best mentally, the best pitches, just the whole package."
But the Orioles, an organization that over the past 15 years has had as much trouble as any team when it comes to developing pitchers, were unable to harness Arrieta's talent.
During his four years in Baltimore, Arrieta -- a 2007 fifth-round pick out of TCU -- went 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. In 63 starts, he never pitched a complete game. In 2013, his final season with the Orioles, he was sent down to Norfolk twice in the first three months before ultimately being traded, along with reliever Pedro Strop, to the Cubs in early July.
Since going to the National League, Arrieta has been a completely different pitcher. In 61 starts with Chicago, he's 31-13 with an ERA that's less than half of what it was in the AL (2.72) and a 0.98 WHIP. He has four complete games and three shutouts, finished ninth in last year's NL Cy Young voting and is a lock to fare much better in this season's balloting. Oh, and in case you haven't heard, he threw the Cubs' first no-hitter in seven years.
So what's changed? Absolutely nothing. At least not physically.
"I've known Jake for a really long time," said Orioles closer Zach Britton, whose older brother Buck played with Arrieta at Weatherford (Texas) Junior College. "He's a big strong dude, but he's like anyone. You think you make good pitches, and guys square them up. That can rattle you. Sometimes, when the doors are closed, your confidence wavers. I've seen him when he was really confident, and I've seen him for stretches where he was struggling and the confidence wasn't there."
According to Britton, Arrieta's newfound confidence is a direct byproduct of leaving Baltimore.
"A lot of it was the pitching coaches he had to work with here. That's just kind of the truth of it," said Britton, a failed starter who has turned into an All-Star closer over the past two seasons. "People talk about the change of scenery, but you either got it or you don't. It's just somebody getting on the same page as he is. Somebody that can coach or teach him the way that he's able to learn. With Jake, it's a feel thing sometimes. If you get somebody that is good at helping you feel what you want to feel, than that's all it is. I don't think there was any reason why he couldn't have done that here."
But he didn't, so the Orioles jettisoned him. Two years later, Baltimore's struggling rotation -- its 4.45 ERA ranks 13th in the American League -- is a big reason why the O's have fallen out of contention. Meanwhile, Arrieta's eating NL hitters for breakfast, in the process piloting a revitalized Cubs franchise toward the postseason for the first time since 2008.
"We worked hard with Jake, and we couldn't find the keys to success," Orioles executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "So that’s why we traded him."
To say that Baltimore's loss has been Chicago's gain would be like saying that Thomas Edison was good at inventing stuff.
"It's night and day," Tillman said. "He took off last year, stayed on that path and just kept going."
And now, he's in rarefied air.