It had been 1,264 days since Jake Arrieta took the mound as a member of the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and his return to the Friendly Confines had been highly anticipated since he signed in February.
Arrieta spoke all spring about his desire to get back to being the pitcher he knows he can be when healthy, even without the stuff that made him a household name during his first stint in Chicago.
His homecoming Saturday wasn’t a flash from the past and there wasn’t 97 mph coming from his right arm, but it was a look into what he and the Cubs hope will be the Arrieta of the future. The 35-year-old led the way for the Cubs in a 5-1 victory, their first win of the season.
“I’ve been anticipating this day for a while. It felt really good,” Arrieta said. “Even though there’s only 20% capacity, it felt like a lot more. Very thankful for the fans showing up the way they did with the excitement, the energy from the first pitch, even before the first pitch. They were ready to get after it. And it’s just like I remembered it. A little jittery to start, but a great day, nonetheless.”
It didn’t look like Arrieta’s first outing back in Wrigley was going to be a long one as the Pirates forced him into a 25-pitch first inning, pushing across a run in the process. However, when Arrieta returned to the mound in the second, he was more effective and efficient.
And after throwing just nine pitches in both the second and third innings, it was clear Arrieta had found his groove.
“Starting out, command was a little shaky,” Arrieta said. “I was pulling fastball out of the zone, cutter and the curveball just weren’t as crisp as they were as the game progressed. But after the first, things were dialed in a little bit better. Didn’t really have the cutter today, which is rare, but was able to execute the fastball down in the strike zone throughout the entire game, mixed in the curveball really well.
“I thought Jake threw the ball well,” manager David Ross said. “He attacked the hitters. ... It was nice. Good day for him. First outing, it was nice to hear the fans give him a nice round of applause as he took the mound.”
Arrieta tossed six innings of one-run ball en route to his first victory in a Cubs uniform since the team’s last playoff win on Oct 18, 2017. He struck out five and walked one.
Being victorious in his old stomping grounds was not only a familiar sight to the sellout crowd, but to the teammates who saw him become one of the game’s best pitchers.
“Just brought back good memories of having him on the mound and pitching against the Pirates,” said Kris Bryant who homered. “Good memories of him doing that a lot.”
“When you can kind of get the feelings of old in new times, I think that’s pretty special,” said Jason Heyward, who also homered. “To get Jake back out here with his attitude, his mindset. As soon as he walks in the door, he’s not an uptight guy, he’s loose. He wants everybody to be comfortable and come out and have fun and compete. Win, lose or draw. I think that’s awesome to know you’re getting that from him.”
Winning his first start back was important to Arrieta, but being able to do it in front of the Wrigley faithful made it even sweeter.
“I spent the last couple of days riding my little scooter around the city, seeing familiar spots, getting recognized by some people, which were things that I really embraced when I was here before,” he said. “I think the fans here are some of the best in the world. And that’s one of the things that I remember most is just passing by people, having brief conversation. The appreciation is very special to myself and everybody here.”