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A long time coming: The Cubs call it even

CLEVELAND – The idea that a pitcher, at this late date, is carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning would conjure up the most historic thoughts imaginable. Had you not been watching Wednesday and merely called up the box score on the mobile device, Jake Arrieta’s line would have shown zero hits for the Cleveland Indians through five innings.

But let’s be clear about this: Jake Arrieta was not going to pitch a no-hitter Wednesday night, and there wasn’t going to be much classic about Game 2 of this World Series. The important part on an uneven evening: Arrieta’s Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians, 5-1, to pull even in the series.

If this series goes the distance, this might be the game that goes forgotten by time. The Indians, so crisp for so long, committed a pair of errors, and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall played as if he wore ice skates rather than spikes. The Cubs uncorked a pair of wild pitches and twice left the bases loaded. The two teams combined to toss 357 pitches, making the pace glacial.

But for the Cubs, it counts as a win just the same, one they needed with the series headed back to Chicago, where Wrigley Field will host its first World Series game since 1945 on Friday. And whether Arrieta had his best stuff as he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning didn’t much matter. There aren’t style points in October. The Cubs will take it.

As eccentric and downright odd as Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer is – remember, we’re talking about a pitcher who compromised his team’s chances in the playoffs because he sliced his right pinkie finger on a homemade drone – Arrieta is utterly straightforward. Bearded and barrel-chested, he looks like little other than a pitcher. On the days he starts, he acts like an ace, carrying himself with confidence. His belief in his ability is such that he sometimes seems indignant when a team scores a run off him.

“He knows when he’s right, his stuff is pretty much unhittable,” Cubs catcher David Ross said. “I think he’s more concerned about himself and what he’s able to do to get himself right, throw strikes, command the fastball, move the ball in and out. I think that’s the mind-set. He’s a very, very simple type of guy.”

As no-hit bids go, though, this was kind of complicated. After Arrieta retired the first two men in the first, he temporarily lost the ability to accurately hurl a baseball 60 feet 6 inches. He fired four straight balls to Francisco Lindor, then fell behind Mike Napoli 2-0 before walking him, and by the time he threw ball one to Jose Ramirez, Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio was striding to the mound for a little chit-chat.

Arrieta won the 2015 National League Cy Young award, and authored one of the most dominant stretches of pitching in a generation, on the back of his fastball, which didn’t overwhelm as much as it surgically took hitters apart.

“The guys that know where their fastball is going, first of all, it sets up everything else,” Cubs Manager Joe Maddon said a couple hours before first pitch. “If you don’t have fastball command, man, the hitters are going to put you in a hole all the time, and they’re going to get what they want. So my point is with Jake, like everybody else: If he’s throwing his fastball where he wants early in this game tonight, he’ll pitch deeply into the game.”

So this was immediately in question. With the Cubs up 1-0 in the first on Anthony Rizzo’s run-scoring double – the team’s first run of the series – Arrieta couldn’t perform the task that is most important to his success. Ramirez, who rapped out three hits in Game 1, got a 3-1 fastball from Arrieta and drove it to straightaway center. In August, it almost certainly was a home run. The damp chill of Wednesday night kept it in the ballpark.

Arrieta escaped the first, but in the early going, the main question was which pitcher was struggling more. Bauer needed 51 pitches to get through the first two innings, and he found more trouble when he issued a two-out walk to Rizzo in the third. Rizzo eventually scored on Kyle Schwarber’s single up the middle. Bauer’s finger, which bled all over the mound during his start in Toronto in the American League Championship Series, held together. His performance did not. Though he gave up just those two runs, he lasted only 3 2/3 innings and it took him 87 pitches to make it that far.

So after Bauer exited, Arrieta kept up the charade that he might pitch a no-hitter. Though he corrected himself after his first-inning odyssey, retiring nine straight Indians before walking Ramirez with two outs in the fourth, he clearly wasn’t his sharpest. In his two no-hitters – in August 2015 against the Dodgers and in April of this year against Cincinnati – he averaged roughly 13 pitches an inning. But when Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez ended the fifth by sending a flyball to the warning track in left field, he had thrown 81 pitches just to get through five. Even if the Indians had somehow gone hitless through seven, it was hard to imagine Arrieta completing this game.

The Cubs, though, gave Arrieta some space with a three-run third highlighted by Ben Zobrist’s RBI triple, a ball Chisenhall misplayed in the corner, and Schwarber’s run-scoring single. The lowlights: the first of two errors from Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis, then a bases-loaded walk that put the Cubs up 5-1.

So the one measure of intrigue became Arrieta, and that became academic when Kipnis sent a one-out double to center in the sixth. Kipnis eventually scored on an Arrieta wild pitch, and when Mike Napoli turned Arrieta’s 98th pitch into a single, that was it for his evening.

The Cubs’ bullpen handled matters from there, pulling Chicago even in the series. Forget about the specifics, because they are mostly unsavory. Just know that Game 2 counted the same as Game 1, and the series starts anew Friday.

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