Pirates have no answer for Cubs' Jake Arrieta

PITTSBURGH -- For the second straight season, the Pittsburgh Pirates' postseason ended with one game and no runs.

The official team of the one-game wild card, the Pirates couldn't do much against Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, who pitched a complete-game shutout in Chicago's 4-0 win Wednesday at PNC Park.

Last season, the Pirates were handled by Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, who tossed a complete-game shutout in an 8-0 win for San Francisco.

Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle compared these games to bull riding. It makes sense. In each game, the Pirates were in it for about eight seconds.

"Two years in a row we've drawn a tough bull," Hurdle said.

The Pirates had the league by the horns for much of the season, winning 98 games, the most for the franchise since winning 98 in 1991. But the Cardinals won 100, and now they're hosting the Cubs, who won 97, in the divisional round Friday. They're a long way from 20 straight losing seasons.

"It's not hard that we won 98 games, it's not," Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "No, there was just a team that was better than us that was able to win 100, and we knew we had the wild-card game in front of us. We just didn't do the job tonight, and thus, the Cubs were able to win. We're going to go home and get ready for next year. That's kind of the way you gotta look it. Just got to move on."

After the game, the clubhouse was closed for a little longer than normal as the Cubs partied down the hall, emptying more champagne than a year's worth of weddings at the Duquesne Club. When the clubhouse opened, the Pirates were glum but respectful of their opponents. They've been down this road before.

"Well, sports is hard," Hurdle said. "Life's not fair. You go out and play. You get beat, you move on."

While the one-game wild-card setup will likely be examined, the Pirates, now 1-2 in the format over the past three seasons, didn't help themselves with how they played in their division during the regular season. They went 34-42 against the National League Central with a losing record against every team, including an 8-11 record against the Cubs.

"It's unfortunate," Pirates starter Gerrit Cole said. "That's why we fought so hard to try and win this division, because you really, truly never know what can happen in these games."

Actually, with Arrieta -- a Cy Young candidate who had a 0.75 ERA in the second half -- on the mound, most people had a pretty good idea what would happen: The Pirates wouldn't be able to score many runs, and Cole would have to be perfect for them to hang around. But Cole couldn't solve the Cubs' first two hitters, Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber, who combined to go 5-for-7 with a pair of homers. They scored and drove in all four runs. Cole gave up only one hit to another Cub, a single to Miguel Montero.

Cole shut down the Cubs in Wrigley Field on Sept. 25, pitching seven innings of one-run ball. He wasn't nearly as sharp Wednesday. He struck out four and walked one and was pulled after five innings.

"I just couldn't find a rhythm and couldn't find consistency to be able to sequence and make pitches off that," Cole said. "If you fall behind in counts against guys who have seen you recently and they're aggressive and they're here to do a job, you pay for your mistakes."

Fowler and Schwarber made him pay early. Fowler led off the game with a single, stole second and scored off Schwarber's single. In the third inning, Fowler singled again and Schwarber cranked a 430-foot homer over the right-field bleachers. In the fifth, Fowler homered to center.

For the homers, Cole said his slider to Schwarber didn't break enough and Fowler was waiting on his fastball.

"We executed the game plan to a T today," Schwarber said. "Just trying to hit the ball hard and lay off inside. Don't chase. Try to make solid contact."

The Pirates had only four hits, but they did get some chances against Arrieta. Pittsburgh loaded the bases in the sixth on a single, a hit batsman and an error by Addison Russell on a sharply hit ball by McCutchen. PNC Park was rocking with Jolly Roger flags waving and fans screaming. Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio held a meeting on the mound, and Starling Marte grounded into an inning-ending double play started by Russell.

The Cubs' defense made some stellar plays behind Arrieta.

"He gives you some pitches to hit, you just got to hit them," McCutchen said. "We hit some balls hard, some balls we hit right at people and they made some good plays on. He was just taking advantage of that strike zone."

Tensions boiled over in the seventh. Arrieta had hit two Pirates, Francisco Cervelli up high in the fifth and Josh Harrison in the sixth. So in the seventh, Pirates reliever Tony Watson plunked Arrieta in the backside. Arrieta and Cervelli started talking and pretty soon both benches emptied, along with the bullpens.

Most of it amounted to shoving and talking, though Sean Rodriguez, who was already out of the game, was ejected. He blamed the escalation on Cubs backup catcher David Ross for grabbing his neck. Rodriguez, who started for defensive purposes at first base but was quickly replaced by Pedro Alvarez for offense, later beat up a Gatorade cooler with a flurry of punches.

"He was choking me and pushing me back. What would you do as a man?" Rodriguez said of Ross, not the cooler. "It may be wrong what I did afterwards, but I was pretty heated."

The Pirates got angry, but they couldn't get even against Arrieta. And now their postseason is over before it really got started.

"We won 98 games, the second-best record in baseball," Cole said. "Maybe that will take the sting away in a week or so, but for right now, it pretty much sucks."