PHILADELPHIA — It took only until the fourth inning of his third home game with the Phillies.
Then came a walk with the bases loaded, and then came the booing.
Welcome to Philadelphia, Jake Arrieta.
“No one likes a bases-loaded walk,” Arrieta said. “I would have booed, too.”
Arrieta didn’t give up another earned run in that game April 28 and went on to beat Zack Greinke and the Diamondbacks. And as he and the Phillies get to Chicago for a three-game series this week, the former Cubs star is one of the top starting pitchers in the National League with a 2.66 ERA and 5-3 record.
Because Arrieta pitched Sunday, he won’t start against the Cubs in the series that opens Tuesday night.
“I know some guys have been giving him grief, saying he’s dodging us,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said.
Arrieta would take the ball Tuesday if he could. He circled this series on the schedule almost as soon as he signed a three-year, $75 million deal with the Phillies in March after the industry’s long, frozen winter of free agency.
“I can’t wait. I’m sure there’ll be excitement there,” Arrieta told the Sun-Times several weeks ago at Citizens Bank Park. “I don’t think I’ll get booed.”
During 4½ seasons with the Cubs that included 68 victories, an All-Star appearance, a Cy Young Award, three lengthy postseason runs and a World Series championship, Arrieta never was booed at Wrigley Field.
“I might have gotten booed once,” he said, “maybe.”
Arrieta, who got a last-minute call from the Cubs in February just before they signed Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal, said he doesn’t mind booing. No one gets more upset by mistakes on the mound than he does, he said, and he said he appreciates fans who are that plugged in.
His new manager, Gabe Kapler, calls him “tough,” “accountable,” and “one of the better leaders I’ve ever been around.”
And Arrieta’s mere presence in the building this week figures to bring another round of scrutiny to Darvish, the struggling pitcher who essentially replaced Arrieta — and who also won’t pitch this week because of a second stint on the disabled list in three weeks. Darvish, who has more DL stints than victories, and a 4.95 ERA, was booed off the mound the last time he pitched at Wrigley more than a month ago.
As far as Arrieta is concerned, his return to Chicago has nothing to do with Darvish — even though he knows the Cubs valued Darvish’s future over his before making their offseason moves. Rather, it’s about the spectacular, history-making run he had with the Cubs after team president Theo Epstein traded for the talented but struggling young right-hander in 2013.
“It’s extremely humbling to do some of the things I was able to do with that organization,” Arrieta said, “individually and as a team, when you look at the history that’s taken place.
“I’ll be emotional [visiting], that’s for sure. Even before I [was traded to] the Cubs, just going to Wrigley Field, that place is special. It’s different. It was a pleasure to go to work there for five years — it really was.”
The Cubs are expected to recognize Arrieta’s return Tuesday, possibly with a video-board montage. And former teammates say they’re looking forward to seeing their former ace.
Manager Joe Maddon said that when the Cubs were in Pittsburgh last week, he caught himself daydreaming about Arrieta’s gem in the 2015 wild-card playoff game, which launched the Cubs as an October force.
“I consider him a good friend,” Maddon said. “To have the privilege of managing him, it’s made me better.”
Added Arrieta: “I still love those guys. I still love the organization. I love the city; I always will. I believe in that letter I wrote to the fans. That was really difficult for me to write, knowing I wasn’t going to be back to that city.
“But it was just time to move on.”