Commentary

Darvish worth every penny to Rangers

He took a perfect game into the ninth, just missing a fresh page in Ranger history

Updated: April 4, 2013, 2:04 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

HOUSTON -- Some dude named Marwin Gonzalez, the epitome of a fringe major league player, ruined Yu Darvish's bid to throw the second perfect game in Texas Rangers history.

Kenny Rogers threw the Rangers' first perfect game in the summer of 1994 -- and Yu seemed poised to join him.

Especially after he struck out 14 batters in the first eight innings and easily retired the first two batters in the ninth inning on three pitches.

[+] EnlargeYu Darvish
AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Smiley N. PoolYu Darvish had plenty of support behind him, but all he needed to carry the Rangers against the Astros was his own magnificent effort.
As the throng of more than 22,000 at Minute Maid Park stood in anticipation of history, many of them took cell phone pictures and recorded video to document their presence for posterity.

But Gonzalez, who hit .234 as a rookie last season, smacked a first-pitch fastball up the middle past Yu. As he turned and watched the ball roll into center field, Yu threw his hands in the air.

Then, he turned around with the smallest of smiles on his face as though he couldn't believe Houston's No. 9 hitter had ruined his chance at history.

Can you blame him?

"I can now go back to the dugout," Yu said when asked his emotions after the hit. The response drew laughter from reporters and showed a glimpse of Yu's dry sense of humor.

"I think my teammates are a little more disappointed than I was. It's a win."

Texas 7, Houston 0.

Wins happen all the time for a team that has won more games than any other American League club except the New York Yankees the past three seasons. Perfect games don't.

"You look at the stuff he was featuring tonight," Houston manager Bo Porter said, "and it wouldn't have surprised anyone in the ballpark if he had thrown a perfect game or no-hitter."

"The guys were pretty relieved when we got a hit. No one wants to be part of history in that way."

The difference between the Yu we saw pitching last summer in June, July and August when he struggled and the guy who dominated in September is easy to discern.

First, he started aggressively attacking the strike zone, which limited his walks. And he quit trying to use the litany of pitches in his repertoire every start.

No pitcher can throw every pitch at his disposal for strikes each outing. The best pitchers figure out what's working in the bullpen before the game and take it to the mound.

Only when those pitches stop working do they go to something else.

Less can be more.

Yu discovered he could shut down opposing hitters with that approach. Nothing changed in spring training, and nothing changed in his first start of the season.

This is the guy whom the Rangers thought they were getting when they paid $51.7 million just for the right to negotiate a contract.

Yu is an ace, the kind of guy who can compete with Detroit's Justin Verlander, Tampa Bay's David Price, New York's CC Sabathia, the Los Angeles Angels' Jered Weaver and Seattle's Felix Hernandez.

He's also the kind of pitcher folks will pack the ballpark to see every time he pitches because he's capable of doing something we've never seen every time he pitches.

Yu, who struck out nine in the first four innings, struck out the side in the second and the fourth innings. He manhandled a pedestrian lineup that finished last in the National League in runs (536) and batting average (.236) last season.

Yu reached 10 strikeouts in the fifth inning, when he stuck out Justin Maxwell on a slider. It marked the ninth time in 30 starts that Yu had struck out at least 10 batters.

Left fielder Chris Carter was the first batter to get a ball out of the infield when he flied out to the wall in left-center in the fifth. The next batter, Rick Ankiel, hit a looping line drive that first baseman Mitch Moreland moved to his right and handled easily.

"After the fifth inning, no one was really coming close to me in the dugout," Yu said. "That's when I thought I was doing something special."

Yu struck out Jason Castro on a slider in the sixth for his 11th strikeout, tying a career high. In the seventh, Yu stuck out his 12th batter, Brett Wallace, on another slider in the dirt.

When Carlos Pena grounded out to first to end the seventh, Yu left the field to the sound of fans, many of whom probably made the four-hour drive down I-45 South, serenading him:

"Yuuuuuuuuuuu!!"

Yu struck out eight different hitters -- only shortstop Carlos Corporan escaped unscathed. Jose Altuve, Brett Wallace, Carter and Ankiel each struck out twice.

Yu attacked Houston's hitters with cut fastballs and a filthy slider that tailed into left-handed batters and away from right-handed batters when it wasn't dipping and darting into the dirt.

Yu changed speeds consistently, making it difficult for hitters to find a rhythm. Yu threw his cutter between 88 and 92 miles per hour and his slider between 80 and 87 miles per hour.

He used the fastball to get ahead in the count and the slider to put batters away. He struck out 12 batters with sliders while nearly tying Nolan Ryan's franchise record of 16 strikeouts.

Houston's hitters only had three or four good swings all night. One belonged to Gonzalez.

For now, history must wait.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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