Perfectly Dominant

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Just two innings into Yu Darvish’s first start of his sophomore season, fans watching the game last night could already sense that they were watching something really special.

Yu Darvish was throwing baseballs that mattered for the first time in 2013, and once again those baseballs appeared to be impossible to hit.  His weapon of choice tonight: a slider that just disintegrated right before it crossed the plate.  After 2 innings: 6 batters faced, 4 strikeouts.

He almost looked bored.

When it was over, Darvish had gone 8 2/3 innings, and left the game after giving up his first hit – ending his quest for a perfect game with just one out to go.

Side note: I’m going to start turning off Rangers broadcasts any time Texas is “one out away” from anything.  Also: what the hell kind of name is Marwin, anyway?

Darvish was masterful, as was his receiver, Pierzynski, who called a great game for Texas’ Japanese imported ace, seemingly unafraid all to call for a slider in the dirt regardless of the count.  Of the 26 batters the pair faced off against, Darvish struck out 14 of them.

14 strikeouts: the exact number of strikeouts Matt Cain had in what is considered to be the most perfect of all perfect games.  One more strikeout and that title would belong to Darvish and Darvish alone.

Falling short was heart-breaking for fans and teammates alike.  Darvish, whose language-barrier creates a bit of an odd mystique that for some reason exudes the impression of a level of child-like innocence towards the game, appeared to understand what he had lost after the Astros 27th hitter, Marwin Gonzalez ripped a single up the middle.  How would Yu respond after flirting so close with perfection only to lose it to Marwin?

“I think I got lucky today,” Darvish said, following a game in which had retired the first 26 batters he faced, striking 14 of them out. “I felt I pitched better against the Royals last year. I had better command in that outing.”

Wow.

Marwin Gonzalez’s single up the middle was just the second time a ball had reached the outfield, and the third pitch to be driven with any sort of authority at all.  None of it appeared “lucky.”

In fact, for most of the game, it appeared nothing would derail Yu’s path to perfection.  Steve Busby, owner of two no-hitters himself, seemed to incessantly reference the possibility without fear of breaking baseball’s long-standing superstition of not “jinxing” a perfecto.

It just had that sort of feeling.  When Chris Carter, the first batter of the fifth inning –the fifth inning – hit a long fly ball that looked like it might leave the ballpark, you could feel everyone cringe as if they already expected the possibility of perfection through just four innings.   That’s how dominant his stuff looked; we began collectively wondering about his pitch count after the sixth inning.  And then, like clockwork, Darvish got through a quick 7th inning, keeping his pitch count at a reasonable number, and keeping everything right on track.

The first sign of worry was in the 8th inning, when Darvish seemed to be focused on one of his fingers on his throwing hand, leading one to believe that an early-season blister may have begun to form.  Between a blister and a pitch count creeping upward, it still appeared that only leaving the game would stop him.

It would’ve been amazing to have been able to finish it off.  As the excitement continued to build, I couldn’t help but think you know, sometimes things just work out the way they were supposed to.

Yu Darvish is this team’s best starting pitcher.  He didn’t start Opening Day because Ron Washington wanted to reward Matt Harrison.  And that is fine.  But Matt Harrison is not an ace.

An ace is a guy who is supposed to anchor the rotation, and when things begin to go haywire, the ace takes the ball and becomes a stopper.  He takes the mound after the team has lost 3 games in a row during a rough stretch, dominates, and re-energizes the team.

It doesn’t matter what order the rotation rolls out in.  The ace is the stopper.  And while Gerry Fraley’s assertion that game 2 of the regular season was a must-win might’ve been a little silly (although, his main point was not), the Rangers needed exactly what Yu gave them.

On Sunday night, the Rangers were demoralized by a far inferior opponent while a national broadcast crew asked Ron Washington about Josh Hamilton and Michael Young while he was standing in the dugout between innings.

Tuesday, the entire nation changed the channel to watch the Rangers and capture the excitement of a [near] perfect game.

I’m glad it happened in that order.

And even though Marwin would eventually spoil perfection, nothing he could have done would’ve overshadowed greatness.  Yu Darvish, ace, has arrived.

And something tells me this won’t be the last time Darvish causes the entire nation to change the channel.

By the numbers:

The Rangers still have just one perfect game, thrown by Kenny Rogers in 1994.

Kenny Rogers’ game score in that game was 95.

Yu Darvish’s game score last night? 96.

Darvish threw 111 pitches, 78 were strikes.  In his debut in 2012, Darvish threw 110 pitches, 59 for strikes.

Two: the number of balls that reached the outfield.

Fourteen: Darvish’s new single-game career high strikeouts.

Robert Pike is a Staff Writer for ShutDowninning. He can be reached at Robert.Pike@ShutDowninning.com or on Twitter @Bob_Pike

Robert Pike

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