Jake Arrieta got a standing ovation at Wrigley Field after Billy Hamilton bounced a ball up the middle, ending the perfect game with a leadoff single in the seventh inning.
The Cubs hope there will be many more nights like this, where Arrieta fulfills the potential that made him such a hot prospect, feels the love from the fans and leads a rotation that’s going to need someone to step forward and be a leader.
As manager Rick Renteria said after Tuesday’s 7-3 victory over the Reds: “The future is here right now for him.”
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A crowd of 28,226 sat through a 53-minute rain delay and then watched Arrieta dominate the Reds (38-38). The 28-year-old right-hander used that cutter/slider to ring up nine strikeouts against zero walks, giving up two runs on three hits across seven innings.
With the Cubs (32-43) planning to move Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, they will need Arrieta (4-1, 2.05 ERA), another change-of-scenery guy they got in last summer’s Scott Feldman deal with the Orioles.
“I want to be pitching along with guys like Jeff and Jason,” Arrieta said. “It’s just kind of how baseball goes. There comes a point in your career where you’re highly sought-after if you do things the right way, like Jeff and Jason have.
“They’ve put themselves in the position to be targeted in a lot of trade talks. Kudos to them for being in that position in their career, to be sought-after by so many teams.
“I’ve always wanted to pitch at a high level for whatever team I’m with, and I feel like I can continue to do so. I would like those two guys to be a part of it. With that being said, I don’t necessarily think that’s going to be the case.”
Sensing the chance to see history, the crowd got loud when Arrieta walked off the mound after striking out the side in the sixth: Skip Schumaker swinging at a 78 mph curveball, Zack Cozart looking at a 94 mph fastball and Homer Bailey swinging at an 87 mph slider.
Arrieta got worn down after leading off the bottom of the inning with a walk and running the bases. Arrieta even slid back into the base after rounding third on Anthony Rizzo’s single into right field. Arrieta scored when Bailey hit Starlin Castro with a pitch that dropped him to the dirt, and Nate Schierholtz added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly.
All that gave Arrieta a four-run lead, but between the running and the long layoff: “I was pretty gassed there, unfortunately.”
Arrieta was supposed to be on the fast track. The Orioles grabbed him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft out of Texas Christian University and sent him to the Arizona Fall League. He made it to the All-Star Futures Game the next year and won a bronze medal with Team USA at the Beijing Summer Olympics.
Between 2009 and 2013, Arrieta would spend parts of four seasons on the Triple-A level and make an Opening Day start for the surprising Baltimore team that won 93 games in 2012.
The Cubs crossed their fingers and hoped Arrieta could emerge as part of The Core this season. A shoulder issue set him back in spring training and delayed his return until May, but he’s been better than advertised. It might not make another summer sell-off easy to stomach, but this looks more like the guy who was supposed to be a fixture at Camden Yards.
“Not a whole lot has changed,” Arrieta said. “It’s just finally becoming a little bit more easy for me, I guess. It’s never easy to have success at this level. But I feel like if you do things the right way, you give yourself the best chance to go out there and have some success.”