Troy is one of my favorite movies. The opening scene is the ultimate. It’s where you first see the confidence, the strength, the sheer brutality and beauty of the fighter known as Achilles. The ruler of the Greek Army, Agamemnon, is set to battle for Thessaly. He wants their land and their army. He proposes his best fighter against theirs. Winner take all. One fight.
The fighter that walks out of the Thessalonian Army makes Aaron Judge look like Jose Altuve. Bald, muscles on top of muscles, he looks like Goldberg plus another 100 pounds of beef. Agamemnon calls out for Achilles, his fighter, but he’s not with the army. A boy goes back to get him and upon finding him tells him that the Thessalonian he’ll be fighting is the biggest man he’s ever seen and that he wouldn’t want to fight him. Achilles responds, “that’s why no one will remember your name.”
Fast forward some 100 years later to October 7th, 2015. The battle of Pittsburgh. One game. Winner take all. Pittsburgh’s best against Chicago’s best. Gerrit Cole against Jake Arrieta. The big, bearded right hander, as he’s called by Pat Hughes, the Cubs radio play-by-play guy, against the young 24-year old, 1st round 1st pick of the Pirates in 2011. Having finished the 2015 season in impressive manner, he was a worthy adversary and fit to take on the young upstart Chicago ball team. For the Cubs, and Jake Arrieta, so much more was at stake.
The Cubs hadn’t advanced in any postseason since 2003, when they went to the NLCS by beating the Atlanta Braves. Since then, they had made the NLDS in 2007 and in 2008, both times quickly ousted by their opponents. Add 108 years of sorrow and you get a team, and fan base, that knows the bottom of the barrel better than anyone.
2015 came at a surprise. The previous year, under old management, the team won 71 games and took dead last in their division. In 2015, the team ushered in a new manager, and a destructive ace who took down hitters with the ease and beauty of the perfect storm. 22-6. 1.77 ERA. Hitters batting .185 against him. Post All-Star break, hitters faired much worse. .148 batting average to go with Jake’s 0.75 runs allowed every 9 innings. You’d have a better chance of a UFO beaming you up into their ship than you would getting a hit and scoring a run off Jake Arrieta.
It was this one game. Every Cubs’ fan huddled in front of their TV like their building a fire. Ready to watch. The anticipation matching Ralphie’s and that damn BB gun, or, possibly, the invention of actual fire, which may not have been around the last time the Cubs won the World Series. Fans, some with their kids, others with their grandparents, wondering if this postseason would be like every other one they could remember. Heartbreak. The Romeo and Juliet kind. The game we love, the team we watch, killing us as they die, yet another fall, this fall, just like the others. Cold, rainy, leaves on the ground and 6 months standing between us and another chance at freedom and victory. But on this one night, one fighter walked to the mound. This one man could spare us all. We could go home to our families and live to see another day. With his right arm, he could save us all.
Just days before the game, Pittsburgh fans took to Twitter to let Jake know that there was no way he was making it out of Pittsburgh victorious. The crowd will eat you alive, walk the plank, get ready for a sea of black. Jake replied, “Whatever helps keep your hope alive, just know, it doesn’t matter.”
The Cubs relievers watched from the comfort of their bullpen. No other pitcher took the mound for the Cubs. Jake recorded all 27 outs with his arm, allowing only 5 hits, no runs, and 11 strikeouts. He only saw 32 batters, 5 over the minimum. The Pirates never stood a chance. The life had been zapped from their bats. He stood on the mound, confident, fearless, emotionless, as he mowed each batter down with his sword.
If you wonder who, or what, the Phillies are getting with their $75 million bucks, join the club. Popular opinion will tell you that this 3-year deal makes zero sense. Even Keith Law, a scouting expert, will tell you that a 3-year deal for a declining Jake Arrieta is a strange fit for the Phillies. He’s a source of the trusted, proven variety. I, however, do not agree with his assessment of the Phillies and their $75 million ace.
You can stare at numbers on your computer screen all you want. Jake’s walk rate and strikeout rate move in directions you don’t want them to go. His ERA up like your cholesterol. His WHIP fades back like LeBron’s hairline. His velocity must be driving through a school zone. Never mind the fact that he pitched nearly as many innings in 2015-2016 as he did in his four previous seasons. Throw in the Cubs’ deep playoff runs in those years, and he’s officially thrown more in two years than he did the previous four.
2011-2014: 466 innings.
2015-2016: 426.1, plus the 42 he pitched in the ’15 and ’16 playoffs. That’s 468.1 innings.
Jake Arrieta is still getting good at being good. This is all new to him. Read the letter he wrote, titled simply Chicago. He says as much in the article, and it’s been previously written about, but he was close to quitting the game. With a 2-year old, a wife, and a new baby on the way, playing ball for the Norfolk Tides, taking the bus, a bag of snacks next to him he bought at QuikTrip or something, while his family is home and he’s 27-years old with a touchdown as an ERA, including the extra point. Oh, don’t worry, 2013 wasn’t an outlier for him, his 2012 ERA was a touchdown, just without the extra point. He was no longer that top 100 prospect out of TCU.
Think this might be a little new to him? Think his arm might still be getting used to the workload? Remember, this is all much newer to him than you realize. His arm just ran its first marathon.
But keep in mind who Jake Arrieta is. As a person. No data.
An assiduous, unrelenting opponent insistent on proving that he’s better than you.
Gabe Kapler said it best. Jake was introduced the other day with the Philadelphia Phillies for the first time. Jake’s new manager described him as a bad ass on the mound, a pitcher that displays confidence and instills fear in hitters. It’s who he is and how he carries himself that tell the story beyond the numbers. Go ahead, light the fire. You have a guy who was rejected by all of baseball, the only offer seemingly coming from the Phillies. The league told Jake Arrieta that David Price is better than you, Yu Darvish is better than you, Zach Greinke is better than you, that Clayton and Madison and Corey and Chris and Gerrit are all better than you. Shit, Russell Wilson, a damn football player, was in Spring Training before Jake Arrieta! Jake truly believes he’s in the same group as these pitchers, and the entire baseball world told him no, you are not.
But, in 2018, that will change. A man whose name will be remembered in Chicago for hundreds of years, is looking for vindication, reckoning, for his name to be with the greats, as one of the greats. With a new motivating force, knowing Jake Arrieta, he’ll set his name right there for you to remember.