Had Monday's matchup between the Angels and the Chicago Cubs occurred two weeks into the regular season and not on opening night, Jake Arrieta would not have left the Angel Stadium mound for good after seven innings.
As it was, his early exit made the Angels' process of losing their opener a little less gruesome. But it was not as if the outcome could have been much worse. The Angels amassed only three hits in a 9-0 blowout defeat at the deft hands of Arrieta, who spotted fastballs on multiple corners throughout his night.
"Once I saw that 95 down and away to the righties called a strike, I knew it was over," Cubs Manager Joe Maddon said.
Arrieta struck out six, walked one and yielded only two singles in his seven innings of dominance. The reigning National League Cy Young winner threw just 89 pitches before Maddon pulled him. There are many more starts to be made.
"That's the mind-set, the goal for me, every time I take the mound: to force contact early, put the hitters on the defensive," Arrieta said. "If you throw quality pitches in the strike zone early on, you're going to make them swing the bats. With good location and movement, that's the results you expect."
Arrieta went one four-inning stretch without allowing a ball to leave the infield, and did not throw more than four pitches in any at-bat until the fifth inning. He struck Mike Trout out swinging on a baffling changeup and a curveball after spotting fastballs for strikes.
"He was just painting," Trout said.
His opponent was right-hander Garrett Richards, the man who will need to pitch like an ace for the Angels to contend this season. Richards gave up three runs and six hits in five innings, needing 97 pitches.
Richards' first pitch hit 97 mph, to Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler. His second pitch was laced down the right-field line for a double. Fowler scored on a single by Anthony Rizzo two batters later.
Kole Calhoun got the Angels' first hit of the season, a sharp single to right field in the second inning. Carlos Perez walked in the third inning, but he was erased on Johnny Giavotella fielder's choice, and Giavotella doubled off on Yunel Escobar's line drive to Ben Zobrist at second.
That was the Angels' last time on the bases until Daniel Nava flared a ball to shallow center leading off the seventh inning.
Richards ran into trouble in the fourth inning when he issued walks to Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant before inducing a routine grounder to first base from Kyle Schwarber.
Jorge Soler then ripped the second pitch he saw past Andrelton Simmons' glove at shortstop, and the Cubs had their second run.
Miguel Montero hit a soft grounder to short, but Simmons, shifted toward second base, could only stop it from reaching the outfield, not get an out, and another run came in.
"We set the table a little too much for a great lineup," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
Richards struck out Fowler to end the threat, but not before he threw 41 pitches in the inning. He had thrown 41 in the game's first three innings combined.
"I think, with the exception of the fourth inning, I was cruising," Richards said.
Richards' 97th and final pitch of the night was clocked at 95 mph. Because of the fateful fourth, he was done after five innings, replaced by Fernando Salas, who yielded a two-run home run to Montero. In the ninth, Cory Rasmus permitted a three-run double to Matt Szczur.
Right-hander Cam Bedrosian, handling the seventh, loaded the bases for Bryant, who grounded one to Simmons' area again.
This time, the shortstop made his first highlight-reel play of the season, backhanding it, turning around to his arm side and delivering to second base for the force.
The last time the Angels were shut out on opening day was 2002, when Bartolo Colon threw a complete-game five-hitter as a Cleveland Indian. That season, of course, they won the World Series.