Yu Darvish delivers on promise
Rangers starter gives reason to believe hype after dominating Yankees
ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time, Yu Darvish tipped his cap to acknowledge the standing ovation as he made his way from the mound to the dugout.
The applause from the sellout crowd at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington wasn't rooted in hype and hope, as it was after Darvish's rocky major league debut earlier this month when the Japanese phenom exited with a straight-ahead stare and an annoyed expression on his face.
Darvish deserved these cheers after simply dominating one of the best lineups in baseball.
"Yuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!," the fans roared after watching a spectacular pitching performance, as exciting for the promise it offered as much as the jaw-dropping display of swing-and-miss stuff.
"This is the game that has been advertised," Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux said after Darvish shut down the New York Yankees' loaded lineup for 8 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and two walks while striking out 10 in the Rangers' 2-0 win Tuesday night.
Yep, this is the sort of outing Hall of Fame pitcher/team president Nolan Ryan must have envisioned when he approved general manager Jon Daniels' plan to make a nine-figure investment in the 25-year-old Darvish to fill departed free agent C.J. Wilson's spot in the two-time defending American League champions' starting rotation.
This is the sort of night folks from Texas to Japan have been buzzing in anticipation about since the Rangers bid $51,703,411 just for the rights to negotiate a contract with the most hyped pitching prospect ever to come out of the Pacific Rim.
"You hear a lot of guys get hyped," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said after his 0-for-4 night, "and he was everything that you'd heard."
This is the sort of stuff the Rangers' scouts had been raving about while evaluating Darvish over the past few years.
You hear a lot of guys get hyped, and he was everything that you'd heard.” -- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira on Yu Darvish
Darvish's fastball touched 97 mph. He dropped in a curveball as slow as 69 mph. He threw sliders, including one that made Alex Rodriguez wave awkwardly for a strike three. He fired a cutter consistently in the low 90s, including one that ran away from Derek Jeter, who had no chance to reach the pitch he flailed at to end the seventh inning. His splitter was working. So was his changeup. And whatever else Darvish decided to throw while working out of the stretch all night on a whim.
"He threw everything at 'em but the kitchen sink," Rangers manager Ron Washington said with a big grin.
"Anybody that throws that many pitches? I don't remember," said New York second baseman Robinson Cano, whose 2-for-4 night made him an exception as a Yankee who fared well against Darvish. "There isn't anybody that throws that many pitches."
Maddux said he'd seen this kind of stuff from Darvish, whose record improved to 3-0 and ERA dropped more than a run to 2.42. Maddux attributed Darvish's dominance to command and pitch sequencing, and he'd get no argument from the right-hander.
Darvish also displayed the sort of mental makeup the Rangers' brass believed he possessed, a quality so critical in succeeding under the kind of pressure that comes with being so hyped and followed by a dozens-strong Japanese media horde in addition to the American baseball press.
Washington was most impressed by Darvish's work after things didn't go well for him. Exhibit A: The third inning, when Darvish got out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam by striking out reigning American League RBI champion Curtis Granderson with a backdoor breaking ball and getting 14-time All-Star Rodriguez to hit a weak grounder to third for a 5-3 double play.
"Every time he got runners on the bag, he made the pitches he had to make," Washington said. "That was impressive, especially against that lineup. You don't get a letup."
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Darvish also displayed more emotion than he had in his first three starts, perhaps a sign that his competitive fire was stoked by facing baseball's premier franchise. He pumped his fist a couple of times while striking out the side in the seventh, including after his punch-out of Jeter to end the inning.
But Darvish, the magazine cover boy with the bleached bronze hair, was the epitome of cool during his postgame news conference, held in front of a background promoting a Japanese company that became a Rangers sponsor this season. Befuddling the Bronx Bombers? No big deal.
"To me, it's just one game that we won," Darvish said through an interpreter.
To 47,085 fans, it was a heck of a lot more than that. It was a reason to really believe the hype.
"I like to think that's there's still more in me," Darvish said.
"If he gets much better than that, we're certainly in for something the rest of this year," Washington said, shaking his head.
And for at least five more seasons after this one. That's why this might be one of the most memorable nights in the history of a franchise that has suddenly started stacking up unforgettable moments the past few years.
This is just the beginning, the first time the Japanese phenom tipped his cap and fit the bill.
Darvish has the potential to make nights like these the norm. That's what has been advertised.