Jake Arrieta was all about dominance in his previous outing. He placed the baseball wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and held the Pittsburgh Pirates to one infield single over seven scoreless innings. In his follow-up performance Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies' prized free-agent addition was all about perseverance. He overcame shoddy defense, a bases-loaded walk that led to him being booed, and the challenge of facing one of the game's best pitchers in Arizona's Zack Greinke.
It could easily be argued that this Arrieta performance was even better than the previous one, because he appeared to be spinning out of control as he encountered fourth-inning turbulence. But, he came out the other side, navigating the Phillies through seven more innings and to a 5-3 victory over the Diamondbacks.
"He worked around some errors and picked our team up in a really major way," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I think that's one thing that we lean on. When we look out there, it's like, 'That guy won a Cy Young award, and there's a reason for it. It's not just because he's exceptionally talented physically. He's gifted mentally. He's strong-minded and I think when the game gets a little bit tough, he just gets a little bit tougher."
Arrieta was at his toughest in the top of the fourth. The inning started with a routine grounder to third base by Paul Goldschmidt, but Maikel Franco's low throw allowed the Arizona slugger to reach base safely. A.J. Pollock followed with a bloop single to left field, and Daniel Descalso walked to load the bases with nobody out.
The boos came when Chris Owings followed with a walk that forced home a run that tied the game at 2-2, and they did not bother Arrieta for one simple reason.
"Yeah, I mean, who likes a bases-loaded walk?" Arrieta said. "I would have booed it, too."
A young Jake Arrieta might have also come unglued.
"Tonight was just one of those games where a young starting pitcher could give up six or seven runs," Arrieta said.
Blink on this night, and you missed the magic of Arrieta escaping that fourth inning by allowing just one run.
First, the pitcher helped himself with a terrific defensive play. Jarrod Dyson tried the element of surprise by laying down a bases-loaded bunt, but Arrieta quickly pounced on the ball and flipped it home from his knees to get a force out. One pitch later, the inning was over when Franco handled a short hop off the bat of Jeff Mathis, stepped on third, and threw to first for an inning-ending double play. First baseman Carlos Santana finished the play with a nice scoop.
"You have to be able to slow it down, take a deep breath, collect yourself," Arrieta said. "Then, you get focused on executing a pitch. I try to emphasize to all of these guys [that] if you're able to do that more times than not, you'll be able to come out ahead."
Just as he shrugged off his first boos from Phillies fans, Arrieta did not obsess on a porous defensive night. The Phillies made three errors, including two in the top of the sixth inning that allowed the Diamondbacks to take a 3-2 lead. Goldschmidt reached for a second time on an inning-opening error, when shortstop J.P. Crawford's high throw pulled Santana off the bag. Goldschmidt stole second and landed on third when catcher Andrew Knapp's throw sailed into center field. Descalso came through with a one-out sacrifice fly.
"That's going to happen," Arrieta said about the defensive lapses. "I try to instill in the guys … that regardless of whether or not there is an error in a big situation or a blowout game, it's part of the job description of the starting pitcher to pick those guys up and tell them after the fact, 'Hey, I've got you.' There's also going to be times when you give up rockets, and they make outstanding plays for you."
Arrieta's words are great and meaningful, but his actions on this night carried a lot more weight.
His reward came in the bottom of the sixth, when Aaron Altherr slugged a 2-1 slider from Zack Greinke into the centerfield shrubbery for a three-run homer that put the Phillies in front.
Arrieta responded in ace-like fashion, retiring the Diamondbacks in order in the seventh inning to complete his outing. Only one of the three runs he allowed were earned. His overall ERA went from 2.04 to 1.82, as he improved to 3-0 after four starts with his new team.
"Jake is one of the best leaders I have ever been around," Kapler said. "He has a way of modeling the kind of behavior we want to see from our young pitchers."
The last time Arrieta faced Greinke, the Phillies' veteran righthander was still a young pitcher trying to find his way. It was in 2013, shortly after Arrieta was traded from Baltimore to the Cubs. Greinke was by far the better pitcher then and was superior on the mound in that game. Two years later, however, they faced off again — without facing each other at all.
After the 2015 season, they finished first and second in the National League Cy Young award voting. Arrieta went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA. Greinke went 19-3 with a big-league best 1.66 ERA. It was the first time in 30 years that two pitchers in the majors had ERAs under 2.00 in the same season.