When he went to the Chicago Cubs as part of a trade that included bonus slots for international players, Jake Arrieta was convinced he'd someday do great things.
Three years later, he's celebrating no-hitter No. 2. And his Cubs are on the rise, too, trading their loser label for the top spot in the majors.
Arrieta allowed only six balls hit out of the infield on Thursday night while no-hitting the Cincinnati Reds 16-0, a gem as clean and as dominating as it gets. It was the first no-hitter of the season in Major League Baseball and his second in 11 regular season starts — he also stymied the Dodgers 2-0 on Aug. 30 as the highlight of his Cy Young season.
"Every time he goes out there, he's got no-hit stuff," Reds outfielder Jay Bruce said. "He's arguably the best pitcher in the game today."
And his Cubs have the best record in the majors at 12-4, which is their best start since 1970. They're building on their wild-card playoff appearance last season with an ace who is doing things that no one except him envisioned when Chicago got him in a trade with Baltimore midway through the 2013 season.
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The Cubs sent pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for pitcher Pedro Strop, two international signing bonus slots, and Arrieta, who had a 5.46 career ERA.
"I envisioned pitching like this, even when I had a (5.46 ERA) in Baltimore," Arrieta said. "I expected to get to this point at some point, regardless of how long it took or what I had to go through to get there.
"I had visualizations of throwing no-hitters or throwing shutouts. So now it's starting to happen for me. I don't take any of it for granted."
He's on one of the best stretches of pitching in Cubs history.
Arrieta has won each of his first four starts, the first Cub to do that since Greg Maddux in 2006. And it goes much farther back.
He won the NL Cy Young by going 22-6 last season — two more wins than he had during his four seasons with Baltimore. On Thursday night, he added to his club record with a 24th straight quality start — he's 19-1 with a 0.86 ERA since June 21.
In his last 16 regular season starts, he's 15-0 with a 0.53 ERA, allowing only seven earned runs in 119 1/3 innings. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 18 2/3 innings.
Arrieta is so good that his latest no-hitter didn't meet his usual standard for the first six innings. He walked three — one more than he had in his three previous starts combined — and threw 85 pitches. Manager Joe Maddon had decided to leave him out there as long as he was working on a no-hitter.
"You never want to interfere with anybody's greatness," Maddon said.
He didn't have to second-guess himself. Sensing that another no-hitter was possible, Arrieta bore down in the last three innings. He finished with six strikeouts and four walks. He finished it with Eugenio Suarez's routine fly to right field on his 119th pitch as thousands of Cubs fans in the crowd of 16,497 cheered at Great American Ball Park.
"What can I say?" manager Joe Maddon said. "Man, it was spectacular."
The Reds hadn't been held hitless in a regular-season game since 1971, when Rick Wise did it for Philadelphia at Riverfront Stadium. In the 2010 NL playoffs, Roy Halladay of the Phillies pitched a no-hitter against Cincinnati.
Arrieta joins several others who have thrown a pair of no-hitters in the last decade. The 30-year-old righty is on the list with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum and the Reds' Homer Bailey, who threw the only other no-hitter at Great American Ball Park on July 2, 2013, against the Giants.
The only other Cubs pitcher to throw a pair of no-hitters since 1900 was Ken Holtzman, who did it in 1969 and 1971.
Overlooked was the Cubs' big night at the plate, which included a pair of singles and a walk by Arrieta. Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer and his third career grand slam, leading Chicago's five-homer barrage. Anthony Rizzo added a three-run homer, and Ben Zobrist and catcher David Ross had solo shots.
The 39-year-old catcher has announced it will be his final season. He'd never been behind the plate for a no-hitter. He wound up hugging Arrieta halfway between the plate and the mound after the final out. Afterward, he posed for photos with the pitcher.
"I feel like I didn't do a whole lot," Ross said. "That animal was in control the whole time. He locked it in when he needed to."