How a wild-card game changed history for Cubs and Pirates

In the course of one game - nine innings of baseball - one door opened and a window slammed shut.

With the Chicago Cubs in Pittsburgh this week, it's a good time to remember how the course of history changed on the night of Oct. 7, 2015, when the Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 in the National League wild-card game behind a complete game by pitcher Jake Arrieta.

The Pirates were coming off a loss in the 2014 wild-card game and a three-games-to-two defeat in the 2013 NL division series. They had broken a two-decades-long postseason drought, and the future looked bright even as they finished second in the NL Central to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cubs, on the other hand, were "a year ahead of schedule," as the narrative went. The young team finished third in the division, with the third-best record in baseball (97-65), 3 games behind the Cardinals and 1 behind the Pirates.

Baseball's second wild-card spot gave them a chance, and they grabbed it, with Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber hitting home runs and Arrieta doing what he had done all season.

"I don't dwell on it, quite frankly," manager Joe Maddon said this past weekend. He was completing his first season in Chicago in 2015. "I've been involved in two wild-card games, that one and the one in Cleveland a couple years before that (when he managed Tampa Bay). And they're crazy.

"I just remember that. When you go into a wild-card, it's the seventh game of the World Series as the first playoff game. That's what it is. So you have to try to make your best guess as you put your right lineup out there."

There are no guarantees in sports, but think how things might have been different if the Cubs had not won in Pittsburgh that night.

There would not have played the Cardinals in the NLDS, where the Cubs vanquished their Gateway Arch rivals and longtime nemesis. It was during that series that the "legend" of Schwarber was born, as he hit a home run that landed on top of the right-field videoboard at Wrigley Field in the clincher.

Although they were swept four straight in the championship series with the Mets, the deep postseason run provided a valuable experience.

"For us, absolutely, it accelerated our progress, no question; I cannot deny that," Maddon said. "But I never really dwell on it. I just know that I'm only a fan of the wild-card game if you're the second wild card. Then it's kind of fun. It's very interesting for the fans. It's really a different method to plan, and it's a tough game."

Things are different in Pittsburgh. The Pirates missed the playoffs last year, finishing 25 games behind the Cubs with a record of 78-83. They're headed to another losing season this year, and the Pittsburgh media are skewering them.

"What's certain, though, is that two years after truly seeming like they'd started something, the Pirates aren't worth your attention," wrote Sean Gentille in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "(Star outfielder Andrew) McCutchen isn't gone, but he will be soon. The Cubs are the Death Star. The Cardinals are the Cardinals … It's over, and it ended in 2015."

The Pirates heard an old charge recently - that they're cheap - after letting their second-best reliever, Juan Nicasio, be claimed off waivers by the Phillies simply to save a few Bucco bucks.

"That is essentially the white flag being waved on the season," wrote Paul Zeise, also in the Post Gazette. "It isn't surprising because the Pirates' playoff hopes were on life support before they were embarrassed in Chicago by the Cubs (last week). This development with Nicasio, though, raises serious questions about the goal of the rest of the season. The goal is no longer winning; it can't be, based on their actions."

The harshest criticism came from Dejan Kovacevic, writer and owner of Kovacevic has covered the Pittsburgh sports scene for years. He formerly was the beat writer covering the Pirates for the Post Gazette.

"Pittsburgh deserves better than this garbage," he wrote on the site. "Fans of the Pirates deserve better. The proud alumni of the franchise, particularly the surviving members of the 1960, 1971 and 1979 championship teams - Bill Mazeroski, Bill Virdon, Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Parker, Kent Tekulve to cite a handful - they all deserve better.

"That's it. That's all I've got on that subject. It's getting harder and harder to find the words, no matter how much new material keeps coming up through this comical incompetence."

That's how quickly it all can change.

• Follow Bruce's Cubs and baseball reports on Twitter @BruceMiles2112.

This was the scene inside the locker room at Kris Bryant, left, celebrated with a wild-card game victory in Pittsburgh with his teammates. Associated Press/Oct. 7, 2015 file
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon was excited as he waited to celebrate with pitcher Jake Arrieta, who led the Cubs to a 4-0 wild-card game victory over the Pirates in Pittsburgh two years ago. Associated Press/Oct. 7, 2015 file
Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber (12) and Dexter Fowler celebrate after Schwarber drove in Fowler with a two-run home run in the third inning of the National League wild-card baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015. Associated Press/Oct. 7, 2015 file
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.