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Jake Arrieta’s call to action is leadership, not selfishness

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Why Arrieta’s words following the ejection of Bryce Harper and the team’s listless play was good for everyone.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Phillies are in the midst of their first real rough patch of the season, and Jake Arrieta isn’t taking it lying down.

The Phils are missing key players to injury. Odubel Herrera, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, Victor Arano and David Robertson are all on the shelf. Phil Gosselin is the current starting shortstop. Aaron Altherr, Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr have struggled to fill Herrera’s shoes. The back of the ‘pen has held up OK, but they certainly miss their best arm.

And last night, in the middle of a listless 5-1 loss to the Mets in New York that followed a 90+ minute rain delay, a group of zombies with “Phillies” written across their chests got their cleats handed to them by Steven Matz, a pitcher who was unable to retire any of the eight Phils hitters he’d faced just five days prior.

Oh, and in the middle of all this, Bryce Harper was kicked out of the game after arguing balls and strikes with umpire Mark Carlson from the dugout.

It was an ugly night of baseball, their fourth loss in five games, on the heels of a dispiriting series against the Rockies in Colorado, and it was simply too much for last night’s starter, Jake Arrieta, who unloaded on Harper and his teammates after the last out was mercifully recorded (quotes via Scott Lauber, Philly.com).

“Look, I mean, [Harper’s] got to understand we need him in right field,” Arrieta said. “I don’t care how bad the umpire is. He wasn’t great for either side. I’m out there trying to make pitches, and he misses some calls. So what? We need him out there. I need him in right field, I need him at the plate, and he wasn’t there. So that hurts.

”We were flat from start to finish. Two-hour delay, it doesn’t matter. We have to be ready to play. We weren’t, and it showed. The dugout was flat. The defense wasn’t good. Didn’t throw the ball well as a staff overall. We got beat. We started at 8:45. I don’t think our guys were ready to play. We’ve got to come out tomorrow ready to play.”

For his part, Harper agreed with Arrieta.

“It just can’t happen from my side,” Harper said of his 12th career ejection. “In a game like that against the Mets, division rival, it just can’t happen, for me, myself and this team as well. We’re a better team with me in the lineup, and I’ve got to stay in there.”

Arrieta’s remarks are reminiscent of last year’s, when he openly criticized his defense, offense, and the team’s defensive shifting after a grueling loss to the Giants in San Francisco (quotes via Jim Salisbury, NBC Sports Philadelphia).

“Well, we’ve had bad defensive shifts, we had a check swing, Kingery should have gone to second on that play and they got three hits in a row,” he fumed. “The home run, credit McCutchen for putting a good swing on it, but I did not expect a ball like that to get out. Overall, it’s just a really horses--- series. Really bad. Really bad.”

Arrieta was asked what upset him the most.

“We scored one run,” he said. “That’s not good.”

He added that there needed to be “an accountability check because this is a key moment in our season.” He did not leave himself out, saying, “I’m part of it, too. There’s no way I should have given up five runs in that inning.”

While Arrieta did include himself in his comments last year, they came across as self-serving, even if they did have a lot of truth in them. Throwing Kingery to the lions, a rookie playing shortstop for the first time his life, was particularly unflattering.

This year, however, things are different.

The Phillies are a veteran team that is in “win-now” mode. There are veterans on this team for a reason. Arrieta is paid to speak up when he feels the team is drifting. Sure, it would probably look better if he didn’t do it after a game in which he pitched and took the loss, but once again, he included himself and the pitching staff as a whole in his comments last night, too.

And Bryce Harper is not a child. He is a grown man and a team leader capable of taking criticism. He knows he shouldn’t have allowed things to escalate to the point where he got thrown out. After all, this is nothing new. Harper has now been ejected 12 times in his career. It’s clear things get away from him at times, and now we are all waiting to see if Harper will face a suspension after knocking Kapler into Carlson.

If the Phils are going to be a championship-caliber team, they cannot go through two or three-week long stretches where they play lifeless baseball. Arrieta is doing his part to try and make sure there is no complacency.

Are the Phillies missing some key players? Sure. But so are the Yankees and lots of other teams. The Mets didn’t have Robinson Cano in the lineup last night. Good teams deal with setbacks and don’t allow rain delays and umpires to take them off their game.

For many in that clubhouse, they’ve never had these kinds of expectations placed on them before, and Arrieta clearly sees it as his duty to make sure everyone is bringing their A-game, no matter who is in the lineup. When teams are slumping, you want to see players actively working to get their teammates out of it. And aside from Harper, Arrieta didn’t call a single teammate out by name last night.

Sometimes, players have to call out other players to get their attention. We’ll see what effect it has in the remaining two games in New York, starting tonight.