Darvish just misses again in Houston

HOUSTON -- One of these days, Yu Darvish is going to throw a perfect game or a no-hitter.

Maybe it will happen at Minute Maid Park. He's certainly made some memories in Houston this season.

On April 2, Darvish flirted with a perfect game in Houston. In Monday's 2-1 victory over the Astros, he needed five more outs for his first no-hitter.

Darvish lost his no-hit bid when Astros catcher Carlos Corporan, with one hit in his past 20 at-bats, crushed a first-pitch cutter into the right-field seats. The Rangers ace had to settle for a combined one-hitter with closer Joe Nathan, who pitched a perfect ninth inning after Darvish departed with 115 pitches.

Just like in April, when Darvish lost his perfect-game bid with one out to go on a two-seam fastball to Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez -- who is now in the minor leagues -- Darvish said it wasn't a mistake pitch that cost him. He said he just got beat.

Only this one wasn't a sharp single that went through his legs. This one went over the fence -- 383 feet, as calculated by ESPN Stats & Information.

"I thought it was a good pitch," Darvish said. "I didn’t think the ball would carry that much, but I thought it was good hitting by him."

For a while Monday, one thing was certain: Gonzalez couldn't save Houston. He's playing for the Astros' Triple-A club in Oklahoma City, and they were in Tucson, Ariz. No getting Marwin here.

Darvish carried a perfect game into the sixth inning, getting two outs on four pitches before walking the No. 9 hitter, rookie shortstop Jonathan Villar.

Darvish appeared to have a strikeout on a 2-2 slider he threw around the knees that catcher A.J. Pierzynski jumped up after catching to head to the dugout. Plate umpire Ron Kulpa called it a ball, and, after Darvish threw another ball low to end the perfect-game bid, Pierzynski said something, then started walking out to the mound, and Kulpa followed him. After Pierzynski said something else, Kulpa ejected him from the game.

Darvish had to put that behind him while Pierzynski was in the Rangers clubhouse. He recovered to keep the no-hit bid going with new catcher Geovany Soto by fanning Astros center fielder Robbie Grossman on another slider.

"I just wanted to keep my focus," Darvish said of the moments after the walk to Villar. "I don’t want to get in a worse situation, which would be to give up a hit, and have runners at first and third. Even the runner who stole second, I just wanted to get him [the batter] out.”

Darvish ended the the seventh inning with another strikeout, his 13th, by Chris Carter on a cutter. Darvish opened the eighth inning by getting a called strike three on Houston third baseman Matt Dominguez on a slider that appeared to be inside for ball four. It was Darvish's 14th strikeout, which matched his career high.

He didn't survive Corporan, who hit his seventh homer of the season. The Rangers ace did finish the eighth inning by fanning Brandon Barnes to set his career high and getting Jake Elmore to fly out to center field.

With Darvish where he was with his pitch count and clinging to a 2-1 lead, Rangers manager Ron Washington decided it was time for Nathan.

"The pitch count had something to do with it, and you’ve got to understand the level of anxiety in what he was doing out there," Washington said. "Once he got out of the eighth inning and they had a hit and scored a run, there was no need for him to go back out there."

It was the right call by Washington, as Nathan came in and a had perfect inning for his 35th save. It was one of Nathan's best saves of the season as he took Darvish's momentum and dominated.

"I had a good curveball, and it's a pitch I haven't used in at least two weeks," Nathan said. "I didn't know how it was going to be. Geo [Soto] was calling it throughout the inning. And just kept throwing it. It felt good. It felt sharp."

Darvish used his vast array of pitches to baffle Houston hitters again. His slider was on early as he struck out the side in the bottom of the first. He threw mostly sliders and cutters in the early innings.

"He kept them off balance," Washington said. "When they were looking for breaking balls, he was throwing the fastballs and cutters. When they were looking for cutters, he was throwing breaking balls. He was in sync with A.J. and then he continues to get in sync with Soto. It was a tremendous day."

Of Darvish's 15 K's, 12 came on sliders. His four-seam fastball was equally sharp, even though Darvish said this wasn't as good of a performance as the near perfect game.

“The pitches that I threw today were a lot different than what I threw in April," Darvish said. "I didn’t throw that many cut fastballs. It was mainly sliders. But I think I was in pretty good shape and had a good outing.”

It was a great outing. For a while, another bid to be perfect.

And in the end, so close to a no-hitter.

"You feel bad for the guy, and everyone associated with it, because it doesn't happen very often," Pierzynski said.