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Cubs relocate ace as Arrieta rediscovers form in 2-1 loss to Mets

Jake Arrieta turned in his best performance in more than a month Tuesday night.

Call off the search.

Jake Arrieta has been found.

The Cubs’ ace wasn’t able to do much about Noah Syndergaard and the Mets, who beat the Cubs 2-1 Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in another game tinged with playoff-like buzz.

But because Arrieta rediscovered the command and punching power that made him a Cy Young winner, he spent seven innings suggesting what he might be able to do for the Cubs as they chase another deep October run.

“It was good to see Jake pound the strike zone,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That is a great game to build off of.”

For all the ninth-inning drama that decided the game, the most significant outcome of the night was Arrieta’s 85-pitch gem that included 63 strikes – with eight strikeouts, one walk and just five hits allowed.

The only run he allowed was a result of Jose Reyes’ leadoff triple in the sixth, followed by three more quick outs (including a sacrifice fly).

After weeks of growing internal questions and external distress, Arrieta flashed on this night the dominance that put him among the elite pitchers of the game by the end of last season.

“I’m not sure where I’m at in the league, but I’m sure in the top 10,” said the right-hander, whose confidence never seemed to waned even in struggles. “Can I get better? Yes. Trying to keep those slumps to a minimum would be ideal.”

Arrieta, who was pitching on his 11th day after sitting out the National League’s All-Star rotation last week, had struggled with inconsistent command for more than two months – a 4.81 ERA since the end of May and 15 walks in his last 22 1/3 innings.

But two starts after struggling against this team in New York, he threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of 27 batters, including 12 of the first 14 he faces.

Through three innings, 25 of his 27 pitches were strikes.

“That’s really when I’m at my best, when I’m challenging guys on the first pitch putting them on the defensive side,” he said. “I expect to pitch more like this in regards to aggressiveness and keeping the ball down low.

“It felt good. I felt better. It’s definitely nice to come out and keep the team in the game, especially when the guy on the other side is doing the same thing.”

Arrieta had his highest strikeout total in a month and pitched seven innings for the first time since June 11.

“I think I can be significantly better on my fastball, but this is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Mets All-Star Noah Syndergaard pitched two outs deep into the sixth, before giving way, in the rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series. He allowed only an unearned run in the third – Willson Contreras scoring on a wild pitch and throwing error by the catcher.

Three hits off closer Hector Rondon in the ninth, including a two-out, go-ahead single by Rene Rivera, produced the winning run.

Mets closer Jeurys Familia made it stand, but not before the Cubs loaded the bases against him with none out on a pair of walks and bunt single. After a fielder’s choice grounder by Matt Szczur to first for an out at the plate, Kris Bryant’s sharp grounder toward the hole was turned into a game-ending double play by third baseman Jose Reyes.

“Another closely contested game with these guys,” said Maddon, whose Cubs lost for to the Mets for the ninth time in 10 games, going back to October.

They play Wednesday in their final meeting of the regular season.

“We just have to figure how to score that run late to get on top, but overall a well played game,” Maddon said.

The Cubs looked like they had a second run in the fourth, when Arrieta was called safe sliding home on Tommy La Stella’s single after he had delivered a two-out double to the left-center gap. But the call was overturned on a replay challenge.

The Cubs’ starting rotation, which produced a 6.04 ERA during a 6-15 slide into the break, is 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA, averaging seven innings a start through one turn since the break.