Spiegel: Arrieta delivers a lesson in greatness

  • In this multiple exposure photo, Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta delivers during the ninth inning of Tuesday's game against Milwaukee. Arrieta picked up his 20th win.

    In this multiple exposure photo, Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta delivers during the ninth inning of Tuesday's game against Milwaukee. Arrieta picked up his 20th win. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

 
 
Updated 9/24/2015 9:55 PM

Watching Jake Arrieta go for his 20th win was breaking the law. And that often feels like delicious, forbidden fruit.

Breaking Jewish law, that is. Kol Nidre, the night before Yom Kippur, begins that most solemn 24 hours. Those hours are to be filled with quiet contemplation, meaningful atonement, and absolutely no work.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I watch games for work. My good fortune to do so aside, I chose to reframe Tuesday night's Cubs game as one I'd watch for fun. And fun it was.

There is no better pitcher in the game than Arrieta these days. He right now holds the best ERA by a starting pitcher in any second half of a baseball season since 1933, a 0.86 mark that eclipses the likes of Roger Clemens and Tom Seaver.

Zach Greinke has been historically great all season in Los Angeles, and his teammate Clayton Kershaw is his usual dominant self. But Arrieta is their match, no matter how the National League Cy Young is voted.

So I watched. In the fourth inning, it was time to start the bedtime routine for my nearly 4-year-old son. He was in the bath for innings 5 and 6. I supervised/played/helped him wash while the Cubs hit. I wandered when Jake took the mound.

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"You OK in there, Rubin?" "Yes, Daddy."

Logan Schafer takes three overmatched swings to finish the Brewers' sixth.

I dry him off, we brush our teeth. My little master manipulator knows every trick to extend his waking hours. Applying toothpaste is a two- minute event.

It's time for books and bed. He knows he's sunk, so he goes for the big guns.

"But daddy … I want to watch baseball with you!"

That's the kind of logical heartstring tug that plays directly into my weakness. You win, my son. Of course, I win too.

We watch the eighth inning together, and he's actually paying attention. This part is new. I ask him what he thinks of the game. He turns it back on me, genuinely interested and quizzical.

"Daddy, what do you like about baseball?"

I think I've been waiting for this question my whole life, from the right person. I've talked about it, written about it, argued its comparative importance, raged against the dying of the light for season after season. But this was maybe the target audience all along.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So, how do you answer that?

"I like that it's hard. Not everybody can hit that ball you know. The very best players in the whole world only do it right like three or four times out of 10. So when they DO hit it, it's really exciting."

He grasps this. He comments on swinging strikes. Each pitch is now a little more relevant.

Jake Arrieta is one of the guys who make this game so hard.

Scooter Gennett grounds into a force play to end the eighth. "So even when you hit it, it still might not be good enough. You have to hit it in just the right place," I explain.

This is some kind of pure happiness I didn't know was possible. He may not end up liking baseball as I do, and that would be fine. I'm most thrilled that he's simply curious, and most grateful that I'm the guy that gets to answer his questions. My dad was among those who answered them so well for me.

Arrieta comes back out for the ninth, with the pitch count tossed aside. He finishes what he starts, and teammates help him celebrate his moment.

He has 20 wins. His 1.88 ERA is second in the NL. His WHIP of 0.90 is tied for second. His 216 innings are first, his 200 strikeouts are third. His FIP of 2.44 and xFIP of 2.69 are second.

Jake Arrieta's path from big-time prospect to early career bust to trade bait to motivated learner and workout freak to Ace with a capital A is one to be cherished. He harnessed and outdistanced his potential through attitude, wisdom, and effort.

You can do anything, kid.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The Spiegel & Goff Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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