By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) “I really don’t need Jake Arrieta to try throwing a no-hitter tonight,” I remarked last week to a fellow pizza driver as we stared at a Cubs-Giants game near the end of our late shift.
It was a school night, after all. The Cubs were already up 6-0 in the fourth inning, meaning I had little motivation to mortgage precious sleep for a full baseball game.
As though he overheard me, Arrieta promptly gave up his first hit of the game in that bottom of the fourth last week. And I thanked him from a distance for the favor.
“He’s gonna throw one, though,” said the co-worker. “Probably sooner rather than later.”
Arrieta has done a lot of favors this year. The most obvious is his contribution to the Cubs — an MLB-leading 17 wins, 23 quality starts that are second only to the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke and all the other crazy numbers. With the stingiest of pitching, he’s carried the team at times while the offense has struggled.
That stuff is all well and good. But we sporting folk are selfish. It has to be all about me, right?
For the Cubs’ front office, Arrieta’s huge favor is perpetually being the centerpiece of one of this decade’s best trades. He and Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger seems to be healing the oft-mocked wound of Brock-for-Broglio, while also keeping at bay the skeptics always eager to declare that Emperor Epstein wears no clothes.
Arrieta struck out Chase Utley, a veteran the Cubs coveted but failed to land, to complete his no-hitter Sunday night. Utley hasn’t been good for the Dodgers — he boasts a .172/.294/.310 slash line in L.A. — but just a day before a local newspaper was begging the question regarding an Utley-less Cubs team being (cough) haunted.
Perhaps Arrieta is doing you and me a favor of not allowing for as much straw-grasping in print going forward.
He did me a few more favors Sunday night beyond the obvious enjoyment of watching the most masterful piece of Cubs pitching in recent memory. Part of the enriching experience of teaching high school is being able to troll teenagers. As most of mine are White Sox fans who haven’t yet learned the logical fallacy of one Chicago fanbase hating the other team, I had a Cubs polo shirt that I never wear cued up for Monday even before Sunday night’s game began. That polo received extra eye rolls and groans, making an otherwise depressing return to the work week much more enjoyable.
Messing with supposed grownups is more fulfilling, though. As Arrieta’s masterpiece began Sunday, I tweeted his status after each inning because irking superstitious people is one of life’s little joys.
Arrieta perfect through two innings.— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
Arrieta with a no hitter through four innings.— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
Jake Arrieta has a no hitter through five innings.— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
Arrieta has a no hitter through six innings.— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
Arrieta with a no hitter through seven innings.— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
Arrieta has a no hitter through eight innings.— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
Jake Arrieta has a no hitter through nine innings.— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
But his personal favors didn’t stop there. Arrieta discombobulated all the pots-and-pans-banging Cubs fans out there who have made Starlin Castro the focal point of the negativity they thrive on. Castro’s subjective error in the third inning was the tail tied to a daisy from which the elephant of a game hung.
In true hero fashion, Arrieta said after the game, ”I thought it was a hit. Tough play. (Kike) Hernandez hit it well. Tough short hop for Castro. They scored it an error, thankfully so, and I was able to finish it off.”
And we who love to see crusty people rankled — as the Dodgers were afterward — rejoiced.
But I’m selfish. I needed more. Manager Joe Maddon had issued a decree of pajama-wearing for the trip out of L.A.
Arrieta's pajamas on the flight out better be the one piece long johns with an open trap door.— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
And then it happened.
ARRIETA WORE A ONESIE TO HIS NO HITTER PRESS CONFERENCE— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
TRAP DOOR CONFIRMED YESSSSSSSS— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) August 31, 2015
Stone-faced, humble, forthright. Jake Arrieta conducted a historic press conference with aplomb rarely seen in an athlete after such an adrenaline-filled accomplishment. And he did it in a onesie covered in mustaches and with easy access to his butt. It was the ultimate favor to someone like me who demands some absurdity amid the stuffiness of a game like baseball and appreciates a guy with an incredible work ethic who still refuses to take himself or the antiquity of the game too seriously.
I should have expected nothing less from a guy who threw a quality start a month ago wearing Little League style fake stirrup socks and does pushups on the field in pregame.
And I saw just the second no-hitter thrown by a Cub in my lifetime and that of many who follow the team, in a really fun season that just felt like a no-hitter was getting thrown at some point and probably by Arrieta. And sooner rather than later.
Thanks for the favors, Jake.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.