Confident Darvish breeds excitement for Rangers
Right-hander shows ability to throw multiple pitches at any time
HOUSTON -- There was disappointment for Yu Darvish. There was excitement, too. The Rangers believe there's going to be more special nights like this one. Yes, he's that good.
"Every way you can throw a ball, he did it tonight," Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.
Darvish showed off seven different pitches, throwing them at different speeds and pretty much where he wanted to throw them in retiring 26 consecutive Astros on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
And then when Darvish was one out from the 24th perfect game in history, a fastball caught a bit too much of the plate, and Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez grounded a single up the middle.
Afterwards, both clubhouses saluted Darvish for his talent and his poise and all the rest.
"As a hitter, you have no idea what's coming," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said after Texas beat Houston, 7-0. "He throws different fastballs, different sliders, different splits. It's tough to look for one pitch, because you never get that pitch."
The Rangers were heartbroken at the ending, hoping to be part of history. But they were thrilled at the idea of seeing how the next six months unfold. If this is the Yu Darvish they're going to be seeing this season, the Rangers will feel pretty good about making a fourth straight playoff appearance.
"He has so many weapons," Pierzynski said. "We threw everything. We threw the kitchen sink. But Yu has the ability to do that. He's special. Hopefully, this is just a precursor to what he does all year."
From the moment Texas signed Darvish 15 months ago, this was close to the kind of game it expected to get. He had so much pure stuff that it seemed he would have a short adjustment period to baseball in the United States.
Years from now, it probably will look like a quick adjustment. At the time, it was excruciating to watch as Darvish either couldn't or wouldn't throw strikes. In his first 22 starts, he averaged 5.1 walks per nine innings and had a 4.54 ERA. His season may have turned when Rangers manager Ron Washington urged him to pitch the way he wanted to pitch.
Around that time, Darvish was transformed. He gained confidence in his stuff. He relied more on a terrific cut fastball. And he stopped being afraid of the strike zone. In eight starts since then, Darvish has been as dominant as any pitcher in the game. In 59 1/3 innings, he has allowed 30 hits with 10 walks and 73 strikeouts and a 1.83 ERA.
Darvish showed off a bit of everything on Tuesday night, but the key may have been that he threw it all with confidence.
"He was super aggressive," Astros third baseman Brett Wallace said. "His stuff was working well tonight, and he got ahead early and had a lot of pitches working."
Two pitches in particular led the way. Darvish's slider has a wicked break, and Houston saw a lot of them early in the game. And then in the later innings, his split-finger fastball looked almost unhittable with its late, sharp break.
"He can make that slider look like a strike," Astros first baseman Carlos Pena said.
As the game wore on and as the crowd began to get into it, the Rangers gave Darvish his space in the dugout, hoping not to jinx his quest for history.
Washington said he began checking on Darvish after the sixth inning, but the conversations were quick.
"Once he said he felt good, I walked away," Washington said.
As for Darvish, he never seemed to change.
"It's not like he runs around giving guys high fives anytime," Pierzynski said. "He was Yu."
Finally, with one out to go, Gonzalez swung at a first pitch and got a hard-hit grounder between Darvish's legs.
Washington popped out of the dugout, got his pitcher and patted him on the back.
"I told him I loved him," Washington said. "He pitched a [great] game for us tonight."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.