Cubs, Jake Arrieta turn back the clock to 2016 World Series vibes

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Gordon Wittenmyer
·4 min read
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Arrieta goes back to the future in Cubs Debut 2.0 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Somebody go find Chris Coghlan, grab some shin guards for David Ross, and pull Jon Lester out of quarantine in Washington.

The Cubs are partying like it’s 2016.

In what was probably as close to a best-case scenario as anyone had a right to expect, Jake Arrieta turned back the clock five years with a six-inning start worthy of the Cubs’ competitive peak on Saturday in his Cubs Debut 2.0.

The 2015 Cy Young winner and 2016 All-Star gave up a two-out run in the first, then retired 11 of the next 13 Pirates he faced on the way to the Cubs’ first victory of the season — and his first as a Cub since the 2017 National League Championship Series.

That was his last start as a Cub before becoming a free agent and spending the last three years with the Phillies.

That was also the Cubs’ last playoff victory.

Whether any of that is a coincidence, the Cubs can only hope the tone set by Arrieta’s start on Saturday for his season and theirs comes even close to approximating the throwback vibe that ran like a live current through Wrigley Field on a warm April afternoon.

“When you can kind of get feelings of old in new times, I think it’s pretty special,” said Jason Heyward, who didn’t even need a team meeting or a rain delay to make himself heard at a level worthy of those warmer and fuzzier days of yore for the Cubs.

Just a 423-foot homer to right.

“It was extremely loud,” Ross, the second-year manager, said.

Heyward’s homer came in the sixth, three innings after 2016 MVP Kris Bryant hit the team’s first homer of 2021 into the center-field basket — the biggest highlight on a day full of them for the 2016 core.

That included All-Star shortstop Javy Báez looking 23 again when he opened the Cubs’ scoring with a second-inning single, steal of second, steal of third and an easy trot home on a Jake Marisnick blooper. Báez had three stolen bases in 59 games during a two-month pandemic-shortened season in which he struggled without fans and access to in-game video.

“Javy’s chaos, man, when he gets out there,” Ross said. “He feeds off the crowd; they feed off him; we feed off him. He’s a spark plug when he gets going, man. It’s fun.”

As if on cue for the day’s theme, the other core 2016 star looking at what might be his final season as a Cub — Anthony Rizzo — added another hit and a walk two days after providing most of the Cubs’ meager production in Thursday’s opening loss.

Bryant, Báez, Rizzo.

Extension anyone?

All those Back to the Future vibes don’t even count Willson Contreras, the 2016 starting catcher for five of those World Series games, looking like Dexter Fowler from the leadoff spot with two walks and a 3-0 count to start another at-bat.

But this was really all about the guy who started it all — with a first-pitch strike in his return to the place his career took off after originally showing up in a 2013 trade that might have been the best in franchise history.

“I’ve been anticipating this day for a while,” said Arrieta, who returned to the Cubs on a one-year contract near the end of the winter. “It felt really good.”

Said Bryant: “It just brought back good memories of having him on the mound and pitching against the Pirates — good memories of him doing that a lot.”

Whether Arrieta or the Cubs can keep up what they started with him on the mound Saturday, it was a moment that went as well as imagined for him, teammates and about 10,000 fans to reacted with volume beyond those numbers to him taking the mound to open the day and again when he finished with his 84th pitch and a 3-1 lead.

“Even though there’s only 20-percent capacity, it felt like a lot more,” said Arrieta, who described riding around the neighborhood on his scooter in recent days getting reacquainted with familiar spots and chatting up fans who recognized him.

“With the excitement and the energy from the first pitch — even before the first pitch — they were ready to get after it,” he said. “It’s just like I remembered it.”

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