Fans of the Olympics searching for a team to root for in the MLB playoffs should look no further than the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs, in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, seeking their first World Series title since 1908 and set to play at the Pittsburgh Pirates in a wild-card game Wednesday, have three U.S. Olympic bronze medalists on their roster.
Pitchers Jake Arrieta and Trevor Cahill and outfielder Dexter Fowler were on the 24-man 2008 U.S. team that finished third in Beijing, the Olympic curtain call for baseball.
MLB never stopped its season for an Olympic break — like the NHL does — so the Beijing team was made up of 23 minor leaguers and Stephen Strasburg, then a rising junior at San Diego State.
Note Arrieta, who ranked second in the majors in ERA this season (1.77), including a 0.75 ERA and 12-1 record in 15 starts since the All-Star Game. Arrieta, 29, is slated to start the wild-card game Wednesday.
Arrieta was actually more dominant at the Olympics, where he was the only minor leaguer on the U.S. who hadn’t yet reached a double-A league. He made one appearance and threw six shutout innings in Beijing, two years before his MLB debut with the Baltimore Orioles.
“One thing about pitchers, if they can throw a couple pitches in the strike zone, they could be at A-ball one day and the next day in the big leagues,” U.S. Olympic team manager Davey Johnson said in 2008, according to MLB.com. “He’s kind of intimidating. He can look at you like you don’t want to mess with him in a dark alley.”
Arrieta’s lone Olympic start came in a memorable 9-1 pool-play win against China that included hit batters and ejections.
In the fifth inning, top Chinese player and then-Seattle Mariners catching prospect Wang Wei was knocked out of the game in a glancing home-plate collision with U.S. outfielder Matt LaPorta.
In the sixth, Wang’s replacement took a direct hit from outfielder Nate Schierholtz trying to score on a sacrifice fly, the catcher’s helmet flying off.
China manager Jim Lefebvre (a former Cubs manager) took issue with the rough play, complained to umpires and was ejected.
In the seventh, LaPorta was hit in the head by a pitch, exited the game and was diagnosed with a mild concussion. LaPorta did play later in the tournament.
In the ninth, China’s backup catcher smacked a solo home run off a relief pitcher, circled the bases with his right index finger held high and stomped on home plate. The run reduced the U.S. lead to 9-1.
The U.S. lost to Cuba in the semifinals and beat Japan in the bronze-medal game.
Arrieta also conversed with then-U.S. president George W. Bush while in Beijing. They’re both Texans.
“I was shocked to meet him at first and a little nervous,” Arrieta said, according to USA Baseball. “My family is going to be jealous, and it is something I’ll remember for a long time.”
Baseball was voted out of the 2012 Olympics in 2005 and came up short in bids to return for future Olympics. Its next attempt, to return for Tokyo 2020, will be decided by August.
MORE BASEBALL: The Olympic All-Star baseball team