TELANDER: Game 4 starter Arrieta deserves big hand from home crowd

Tip your hats, Cubs fans, when starting pitcher Jake Arrieta takes the field Wednesday against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

Tip it again and holler, ‘‘Thank you!’’ when he comes out. Whether the Cubs are ahead or behind.

Heck, stand up and go crazy in appreciation as he walks off. Throw your hats on the field. Throw roses.

Throw photos of your deceased grandparents, late friends, all those loved ones who never saw the Cubs win the World Series in 107 years.

Jake Arrieta talks during a news conference before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers on Tuesday. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Arrieta is as big a reason as any that the Cubs broke that infernal curse in 2016.

Thank him deeply because he will never pitch again for the Cubs — unless they move on to the World Series. After that, gone.

He’s a free agent the moment the postseason ends, and the Cubs can’t possibly match the gigantic contract he’ll be offered by somebody else. Unless the Cubs get him back sometime in the distant future, when he will be old and fragile, he’s done in Cubbie blue.

Let’s go back to the start. Cubs president Theo Epstein got Arrieta and Pedro Strop from the Orioles in 2013 in exchange for pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger, neither a superstar.

Of course, Arrieta was no superstar, either. His numbers after four years in Baltimore were 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA. Yet he had shown flashes of brilliance for parts of games, maybe just innings.  Epstein saw something worth gambling on. The 6-4, 225-pounder, as they say, had good stuff.

By 2014, he was solid with a 10-5 record and 2.53 ERA.

Then came 2015, and that’s when Arrieta changed Cubs history, the year before the World Series march. He went 22-6 that year with an incredible 1.77 ERA, four complete games and 229 innings pitched.

He won the 2015 Cy Young Award but came from so far out of nowhere that he didn’t even get selected for the July All-Star Game.

His run at the end of the season, for 20 games, was epic and historic. Try an all-time best ERA of 0.86.

‘‘My God, you pretty much knew if you scored one or two runs, you were going to win that night somehow,’’ said manager Joe Maddon on Tuesday, reflecting back on that year.

Why was Arrieta’s performance so important if the Cubs didn’t win the World Series that year? It was critical because it pushed them into the postseason, a deep postseason, winning the NL Division Series before losing to the Mets in the NL Championship Series, and it heightened team expectations and brought in key, and unexpected, revenue.

Epstein was able to procure high-priced Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward partly as a result of Arrieta’s dominance. The long-running rebuild had moved into high gear before anybody thought it possible.

There’s no question that the trade for Arrieta was the best in Epstein’s career, with the Red Sox or Cubs. It blossomed in a way no one could predict. Lucky or genius? You decide.

“I don’t even think we’re competitive in ’15 without him,” Epstein said at the end of spring training this year. “And we’re not a playoff team without him. Maybe the whole timetable for the rebuild is different without him.”

Not maybe. For sure.

So now we’re faced with the prospect of losing this gem, who has slowed down from what he was but still has that great stuff.

Asked about the obvious departure, Arrieta said the situation was ‘‘very similar’’ to how he felt during last week’s NLDS start against the Nationals, but he was ‘‘still optimistic and looking forward to making a couple more [starts] here.’’

To do that, the Cubs have to win this series against the Dodgers, praying for a comeback that can rival their magic of 2016.

If this is the end for Arrieta in Chicago, don’t forget to salute him and his good work.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

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