CHICAGO – When he was pitching here while wearing a blue pinstriped jersey and a blue hat last time, there were four times the people in attendance.
That’s because he got the Cubs a victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS against the Dodgers in front of a full house at Wrigley Field. That wasn’t possible on Saturday since COVID-19 restrictions in Chicago only allow 25 percent capacity for outdoor sporting events.
It’s considerably less that Arrieta’s used to having at the “Friendly Confines” as he took the mound against the Pirates, doing so for the first time since his return to the Cubs. But that didn’t bother him at all, for just being among some fans was good enough to bring back some joy.
“I’ve been anticipating this day for a while,” said Arrieta of his first game back with the Cubs against the Pirates. “It felt really good. Even though there’s only 20 percent capacity, it felt like a lot more.”
He certainly pitched like there was a full house for most of the afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Despite a high-pitch first inning, Arrieta settle into a performance Cubs’ fans got used to from 2013-2017. He’d go six innings, allowing only the run allowed in the first frame, striking out five batters while walking just one.
Couple that with strong run support that included a third inning homer from Kris Bryant and a sixth-inning longball from Jason Heyward, the Cubs beat Pittsburgh 5-1 for their first win of the year.
It was Arrieta who was the star of the afternoon as he picked up his 69 victory in a Cubs’ uniform in his career. He was able to work deep into the game, exiting with 84 pitches after the sixth inning, and solidified his place as one of the top starters on the Cubs’ staff.
Kevin Newman’s RBI single with two outs was the only blip on the performance from Arrieta, who looked close to his old self after three injury-riddled seasons in Philadelphia. The pitcher felt the spectators did the same, even if they weren’t as great in number.
“Very thankful for the fans, showing up the way they did, with the excitement, the energy from the first pitch, well even before the first pitch, they were ready to get after it,” said Arrieta. “It’s just like I remembered it.”
So was he over the course of six innings on a most celebrated homecoming at Wrigley Field.