NEW YORK – Jake Arrieta and Matt Harvey have big arms and big egos and Scott Boras working for them to make their bank accounts bigger.
The Cubs experienced nothing like the innings-limit controversy that engulfed Harvey and the New York Mets. It became the perfect storm for a pitcher who wants to be a crossover star, his quotable super-agent, a suddenly hot team and the city’s tabloid newspapers.
The Cubs still know Arrieta will be in uncharted waters during this National League Championship Series, potentially starting Games 2 and 6 at Citi Field and having an outsized influence over whether or not they win their first pennant in 70 years.
Arrieta might have won a Cy Young Award during this brilliant season. But at almost 243 innings and counting — or 87 more than he threw in the big leagues last year — you have to wonder how much he has left or if he’s nearing The End.
“Of course,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You got to be careful with all of that.”
“The Dark Knight of Gotham” will start Game 1 on Saturday night in Queens, where pitch counts and innings caps have apparently become yesterday’s news.
“I think everybody kind of had enough talk and discussion about that whole ordeal,” Harvey said. “I’ll be the last person to ever bring that one up again.”
Arrieta is also represented by Boras Corp., but that’s about it, because he doesn’t really know Harvey personally. Physically, both pitchers are built roughly the same way, 6-foot-4 right-handers listed between 215 and 225 pounds.
But at the age of 29, Arrieta is three years older and didn’t have the Tommy John surgery that wiped out Harvey’s entire 2014 season.
“It’s a tough situation for the player, the team and everybody involved,” Arrieta said. “It’s not something you want to see anybody have to go through. But at the end of the day, you have to understand that you might not ever be in this position again.
“For me, it’s trying to keep your body healthy, trying to prepare yourself to go past the innings limit (and) help your team in this situation. Because you don’t know if you’re going to get back there.”
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson put it this way: “As we’ve said all along, it’s a matter of appearance to appearance and how (Harvey) feels. So that’s a determination we’ll make after his first start (on Saturday). We’ll see. But certainly starting him in Game 1 creates a certain presumption that he’ll pitch more than once in the series. But that’s not a decision we’ve made.”
The Cubs definitely don’t see Arrieta as a 24-and-1 guy, because he’s very approachable and they know that his obsessive approach to conditioning and nutrition sets a great example inside the clubhouse.
The Cubs wouldn’t be here without Arrieta’s unconscious second half (12-1, 0.75 ERA), plus his complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card game.
“It’s beyond the physical drain,” Maddon said. “It’s the emotional drain. He went through a really difficult moment in Pittsburgh that night and he set this whole thing up for us. Any time you can give a guy both an emotional and a physical break, you take advantage of that right now.”
The unrealistic expectations became Arrieta throwing a perfect game every time out, which would have sounded crazy when the Cubs acquired a Triple-A pitcher from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season.
[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]
That’s how far Arrieta has come, beating the best team in baseball on Monday and getting what-happened questions after an 8-6 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional round.
Arrieta gave up four runs in 5.2 innings in that Game 3 win, or as many earned runs as he allowed in August, September and early October combined.
As Arrieta said: “It’s pretty difficult to have a sub-1.00 (ERA) for your whole career.”
Maddon felt the adrenaline rush might have gotten to Arrieta, noticing he didn’t have the same finish on his pitches and got out of line mechanically against the Cardinals. Arrieta admitted he felt his heart rate pumping throughout the day, and he will have to channel all that nervous energy in New York.
“A playoff atmosphere can drain you mentally,” Arrieta said. “You spend a lot of brainpower throughout the day contemplating things, thinking about different scenarios, and it can be taxing. Sometimes that will translate into some physical fatigue.
“But I think being able to understand how to handle these playoff atmospheres and situations — especially leading into the game — is going to do me a lot more good going into this series.”