Jake Arrieta Stole a Base by Jeff Sullivan October 8, 2015 Let’s think about reactions. Think about how people respond to things that don’t go their way. You learn a lot about maturity, which is a lot about emotional command. Years ago my stepdad told me he feels bad for people who are angry — anger is an ugly display, a senseless expression, the avenue of the underdeveloped. It took me a while to know what he meant. The thing about anger is how satisfying it feels in the moment. When provoked, it’s almost a craving. The thing about maturity is remembering the other moments. Wednesday night, Sean Rodriguez’s anger was provoked. One of the enduring images from the wild-card game is Rodriguez beating the life out of a lifeless orange cooler, an act that’s previously sent Rodriguez to the hospital. To Rodriguez’s credit, he didn’t do that to another living person, not that he didn’t try. He was tossed out for throwing a punch; he subsequently threw several more. Rodriguez needed to let his anger out, the pressure having mounted, and the release was violent, paroxysmic. Rodriguez thought of nothing other than resolution through his fists. Wednesday night, at nearly the exact same time, Jake Arrieta’s anger was provoked. That which provoked Arrieta provoked Arrieta’s teammates, and it was Arrieta’s teammates who provoked Sean Rodriguez. Unlike Rodriguez, Arrieta remained an active player in the game. And very much unlike Rodriguez, Arrieta channeled his anger into something non-violent and constructive. The night saw Arrieta demonstrate his superiority in more than one way. That which started it: The Pirates might say that isn’t fair. The Pirates might say Arrieta started it, by previously hitting two of their batters. Never mind that one was grazed on the fingers, and that the other was struck by a breaking ball. Never mind that the Pirates organization very famously instructs many pitchers to work dangerously inside. You have to know that emotions run high in these things. You have to know that inside pitches trigger something, and that a baseball still hurts when it’s going 80 miles per hour. The Pirates were upset, with Arrieta, and with their circumstances. So Tony Watson threw a fastball at Arrieta’s butt. Arrieta wore it, and no one was injured, but the intent couldn’t have been more clear. Words were exchanged more than blows ever were. Within Arrieta, emotions were brought near the surface. Only 10 times in history has a pitcher been hit by a pitch in a playoff game. It happened to John Lackey last year, but before that, you’d have to go all the way back to 1977. One naturally becomes upset when injured. One naturally becomes more upset when injured by another on purpose. Arrieta identified that feeling within himself. He kept it in its place. While teammates and adversaries milled around and heatedly approached the edge of actually doing something to one another, Arrieta considered his anger and thought to make something of it. As events settled down and returned to in-game normalcy, Arrieta stood on first base, looking at the left-handed Watson while the left-handed Watson looked at Dexter Fowler. First-base coach Brandon Hyde sneaked in behind Pedro Alvarez to whisper a message into Arrieta’s ear. The message, probably: take off, if you think you can make it. The rest was up to Arrieta, but he had his permission. And with his anger, he created 90 feet. Symbolically, Arrieta did what he pleased. Symbolically, his attempt was entirely uncontested. The Pirates had thrown at Arrieta on purpose, and while maybe they didn’t know what the exact result would be, they might’ve hoped for an emotional response that would knock Arrieta off his game. Instead, the only player who lost it came out of the Pirates dugout, and Arrieta very calmly turned one free base into two. The Pirates could do nothing but accept it, accept the micro-defeat within the macro one. Watson tried to pull Arrieta into the muck. Instead he found a path around and above it. Safely on the other side, Arrieta could look down upon his opponents. It was the seventh time in playoff history that a pitcher has stolen a base. It was done once in 1908, when the flag had 46 stars. It was done again in 1952, and here’s what that looked like: Incredibly, it was done again by John Smoltz in 1991, 1992, and 1995. Then Cliff Lee stole a base in 2009, crediting first-base coach Davey Lopes. Finally, Arrieta, Wednesday night. Only Arrieta took off after having been hit by a pitch. And, as far as we know, only Arrieta stole on the first pitch after, at the first opportunity. Arrieta didn’t wait to observe. Arrieta didn’t do anything to time Watson’s delivery. Arrieta saw his presence on base was being neglected, and as quickly as he advanced to first, he advanced to second. There was zero hesitation. Arrieta knew exactly where his anger should go. That’s the other part of it — as good as acting out can feel in the moment, if you’re able to harness your anger, you can turn it completely back around. It was the Pirates who acted on emotion by hitting Arrieta in the hip. And it was the Pirates left feeling most emotional after Arrieta took his base and then took another. In that way Arrieta won both the smaller confrontation and the bigger one, the one he controlled from start to finish. Out of the way that he felt, Jake Arrieta did something constructive and stayed on his mission. Over the course of his career, it isn’t just Arrieta’s pitching that’s developed.