Darvish merely masterful for Rangers
Near no-hitter nothing new for Texas' dominant hurler
Every once in a while, a guy turns out to be every bit as good as advertised. That's the bottom line with Yu Darvish. Strip away everything else that happened Friday night in Arlington, and this simply was one of baseball's most dominant pitchers at the top of his game.
Darvish's slider was virtually unhittable. He threw it hard, around 81 mph, and got wicked movement at home plate. He got five of his 12 strikeouts with it, but that's only part of the story.
Because Darvish has so many other weapons, he can pick out what's working and junk everything else. Or as he did on Friday, he can throw a power game for, say, five innings, and then begin cutting his fastball to compensate for less velocity in the latter part.
At times like this, Darvish seems to be in total control. When he can change speeds on his fastball -- throwing it 91 mph once, then 94 mph, then 91 mph -- hitters are in a tough guessing game.
In perhaps his most dominant moment, Darvish struck out Grady Sizemore on a devastating fastball-slider-curveball combination in the second inning. At that point, the Red Sox knew they had a tough assignment. Darvish threw first-pitch strikes to 17 hitters, a reflection of his confidence and willingness to trust his stuff.
OK, so Darvish was unable to close out another no-hitter. We'll make a note to have him work on that part of his game.
If you're keeping track, that's four times in 68 career starts that Darvish has carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning or later. This was the second time in just over a year he got within one lousy out of a no-no.
Darvish breezed into the seventh inning with a perfect game, and then with 20 consecutive outs in the books, a routine David Ortiz fly ball fell between rookie second baseman Rougned Odor and veteran outfielder Alex Rios.
It was scored an error on Rios, and regardless of what you think of the decision, it was a play that should have been made. With the perfect game no longer possible, something changed for Darvish at that point.
Darvish walked two of the next three hitters, but he still carried a no-hitter into the ninth. And then with 26 outs in the books, Ortiz grounded a single through the shifted right side of the infield. Darvish's 126th pitch was his last one, and he walked off the mound to a rousing standing ovation.
When Darvish joined the Rangers two springs ago, there were the usual reports that he had six or seven quality pitches and that he would redefine the art of pitching.
One enduring memory of that first spring is that some of the most veteran, cynical, grizzled scouts bought into Darvish almost from the start. One of them predicted he'd throw multiple no-hitters during his career. He may or may not do that, but he has done what top-of-the-rotation starters are supposed to do. That is, Darvish has given Texas a chance to win almost every game he pitches.
The Rangers are 42-26 in Darvish's 68 starts. In those 68 games, he has allowed three runs or fewer 53 times. He has allowed zero earned runs 13 times, including four times in eight starts this season.
Darvish led the Majors with 277 strikeouts last season, the most since Randy Johnson had 290 in 2004. His 552 strikeouts through 68 starts are the second most in Major League history to Dwight Gooden's 556.
So when Darvish comes to your neighborhood ballpark, you have a chance to see one of the game's resplendent stars, a guy with the pure stuff and the poise and the pitching aptitude to be remembered as one of the all-time greats.
Darvish is one of the reasons the Rangers are one of baseball's four or five most successful franchises. He's also one of the reasons they're going to draw 3 million fans for a third straight season.
The Rangers have built a large, loyal fan base in North Texas the last 42 years, but they've never been as popular as they are right now, having gone to the postseason three times and the World Series twice in the last four seasons.
Even in a season when their pitching staff has been almost gutted by injuries, they're still going to be a factor in September. In some places, Darvish's starts would be events unto themselves.
But the Rangers are so popular right now that every game is an event, and so, that setting -- a large crowd, big expectations -- set the scene for something special on Friday night.
Darvish almost delivered a bit of history again, but when he walked off the mound in the ninth inning to that ovation, it was another special moment in a career that has already had several of them. Best of all, there'll be plenty more.
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.