Jake Arrieta didn’t win ’em all, but he changed it all for the Cubs

Yeah, Jake Arrieta said it:

“Why not 33?”

Why not win every one of his starts? Arrieta threw that out there in April of 2016, and if he was only having fun when he did so, well, you know what? It was fun. It was fun because there was a small part of anyone who heard or read those words that believed it — or something pretty dang close — was possible.

Arrieta was coming off a 2015 season that simply must’ve been the greatest a Cubs pitcher has ever conjured. His 22 victories and 1.77 ERA earned him a Cy Young. His major league record 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break made him a living, flexing, Pilates-doing legend.

Jake Arrieta was fired up after finishing the sixth inning of Game 4. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In accomplishing all that, Arrieta changed the nature of what it meant to be a Cub. It meant winning.

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A year later — when Arrieta was more human with a still-very-good 18 victories — it meant winning at the highest level imaginable. A World Series crown. And now, three straight trips to the National League Championship Series. If Arrieta never throws another pitch for the Cubs, he’ll be remembered for doing as much heavy lifting as anyone to make the most meaningful three-year stretch in franchise history happen.

Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, with his team facing a three-games-to-none deficit against the Dodgers, Arrieta dug to the very bottom of his gut and produced a 111-pitch gem. Cubs 3, Dodgers 2. It sure beats losing.

“Being able to get to the postseason three years in a row in this organization, from where we [were] when I got over here in 2013, has been tremendous,” he said this week.

And, yeah, Arrieta also once said this:

“I’ve already processed it. I’ve already visualized the scenarios. So I feel like anything that’s thrown at me [in] any game, I’m ready to handle and deal with and move forward.”

That was in 2015, before Arrieta took the ball against the Pirates in the NL wild-card game in Pittsburgh. He was dominant that night and has had some unforgettable postseason moments since — none more so than the pair of games he won last fall against the Indians.

So when he was back on the mound for Wednesday’s Game 4, you’d better believe he inspired at least some degree of confidence.

When he struck out batters to end each of the first two innings, the noise began to build. When he buried a curveball that Chase Utley grounded into a double play to end the fourth, spirits at Wrigley were raised in earnest. When he blew a fastball by Curtis Granderson to end the sixth, victory didn’t seem far away at all.

The Cubs are on the board in this series. Somebody had to put them there, right? Maybe, just maybe, magic will happen from here.

In the big picture, though, Arrieta had already done his job regardless of the outcome. He’d been a great pitcher for the Cubs, a standard setter, a game changer.

We’ve been writing all year of the likelihood that Arrieta’s time with the Cubs will end with the final out of the season. It never felt more real that it did in Game 4.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” he said. “It’s a thank you. I still intend to have another start in this ballpark. [But] if that’s where it ends, then I did my best and left it all out there.”

He came, he saw, he usually kicked the crap out of the other guy. It won’t be the same without him.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com