The top of the batting order wreaked havoc for the Chicago Cubs, who behind Jake Arrieta beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 in the 2015 National League Wild Card Game on Wednesday night at PNC Park.
Arrieta struck out 11 and walked none in a four-hit shutout, in his first playoff game.
Chicago will advance to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series beginning on Friday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon put what he called the team's best offensive lineup up against Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, and it paid off to the tune of four runs in five innings, including home runs by Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber.
The center fielder Fowler had three hits on the night and scored three runs from the leadoff positon while Schwarber, playing in right field and batting second, drove home three runs.
The four-run lead was more than enough for Arrieta, who hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start since June 16. The Cy Young Award candidate finished his second with 20 consecutive quality starts, but down the stretch he was sublime, allowing a total of seven runs over his final 12 regular season starts.
On Wednesday night, Arrieta allowed a two-out single to Andrew McCutchen in the first inning, then retired 13 of his next 14 batters faced.
Pittsburgh's best chance at offense in the game came in the sixth inning, when a single, hit by pitch and error loaded the bases with one out. Down 4-0, Starling Marte represented the tying run at the plate and hit the ball sharply, but it was right at shortstop Addison Russell, who easily started a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat and keep the Pirates off the board.
Tensions ran hot between the two division rivals in the seventh inning when Arrieta was hit by a pitch while batting after hitting a pair of Pirates earlier in the game. Benches emptied, but like most baseball skirmishes this ended with a whimper.
In a battle of two evenly matched teams — that combined for 195 wins during the regular season — and in a duel of a pair of aces, Arrieta proved to be the trump card.
It was a case of déja vu for the Pirates, who ran into a red-hot starting pitcher to drop the Wild Card Game at home. In 2014, it was an 8-0 loss at PNC Park to Madison Bumgarner, who would go on to author arguably the greatest individual pitching performance in a single postseason.
It's way too early to predict a Bumgarner-type run for Arrieta, who has a 0.37 ERA over his last 97⅓ innings. But Wednesday was a start, and Arrieta and the Cubs will continue on.