Darvish first Rangers ace in years

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The double fist pump accompanied by a primal scream certainly qualified as a rare emotional outburst from Yu Darvish.

Then again, so was his performance Sunday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark.

For the second time this season, Darvish struck out 14 batters to become the first pitcher in the past 13 seasons to accomplish that feat. Pedro Martinez did it three times in 2000, and Mike Mussina did it twice.

He was dominant. And mesmerizing. And, at the end of the day, he was gritty.

Jon Daniels and the Texas Rangers' brain trust must have champagne toasts in 24-carat goblets each time Darvish pitches. Never has a $51.7 million posting fee -- the cost to negotiate a contract with Darvish -- seemed like such a bargain.

Darvish threw a career-high 127 pitches -- he'll have six days off between starts -- and he needed every bit of energy he had to escape a seventh-inning jam.

With two out and the go-ahead run on second, courtesy of a walk and a stolen base, Darvish struck out Pedro Ciriaco.

"He was the ninth hitter," Darvish said of the batter who sparked his emotional outburst, "and if I had given up [a] hit there, it would've changed the momentum of the game. It was important to finish the inning."

In the bottom of the ninth, Adrian Beltre delivered a two-out, opposite-field single that scored Elvis Andrus with the game-winning run.

Texas 4, Boston 3.

Joe Nathan claimed the win after working a scoreless inning in the top of the ninth, but Yu did much of the heavy lifting.

It has been so long since the Rangers had a true ace that we've forgotten what it's like to have one on the Rangers' staff for a full season.

Sure, Cliff Lee was an ace, but he didn't pitch like one until the 2010 playoffs, so we didn't get an opportunity to enjoy his ability during the 15 regular-season starts he made.

Rick Helling won 20 games for the Rangers in 1998, but he had a 4.41 ERA. Kevin Brown, who won 21 games in 1992, was the last true ace the Rangers had in their rotation.

Until now.

An ace recognizes the key moment in a ballgame. Or a season. And in those situations, he wants the ball in his hands.

It's only May, but this was a big series, whether Ron Washington and Darvish choose to acknowledge it or not. Seriously, do you think Darvish displays that kind of emotion if he has the same type of performance against the Toronto Blue Jays or the Chicago White Sox?

We're talking about a dude who laughed after losing a perfect game in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros in his first start of the season.

That's because Darvish is as fierce as a competitor as you'll find in the Rangers' clubhouse.

He knew the Boston Red Sox entered the weekend with the American League's best record -- and he wanted to be the one to sweep them out of town. The fact he was pitching against a quality starter such as Jon Lester, who was 4-1 with a 3.11 ERA before the game, just made it sweeter.

The only complaint anyone could have about Darvish this season is his penchant for slow starts.

Of the 13 runs he has allowed this season, nine have come in the first inning. David Ortiz followed Dustin Pedroia's dribbler with a towering shot to right field for a 2-0 lead. In the second inning, David Ross became just the fourth opponent in the history of Rangers Ballpark to hit a homer into the club level.

That made it 3-0.

"The game goes on," Darvish said. "My job is to keep the team in the game. That's what I try to do. I try to be strong in my mind and not dwell on the runs I've given up."

Darvish struck out at least two batters in six different innings, and he struck out the side in the sixth inning.

The difference between Darvish and other pitchers is that he has so many different pitches he can throw for strikes. If the four-seam fastball isn't working, then he can go with the two-seam fastball that runs in on right-handed batters.

If neither fastball is working, he can go with a variety of off-speed pitches, from a slider to a curveball. And he throws each pitch at varying speeds and varying arm angles.

The reality is that it's usually just a matter of time until he finds a combination of pitches that are working. Once he does, it's a wrap.

And that's what happened to Boston.

Darvish started attacking with his fastball to get ahead in the count. He put batters away with his breaking balls. Eight of his 14 strikeouts occurred on sliders.

"He's a No. 1 pitcher. He just had to get his foot on the ground in the United States," Washington said. "He has pitches, and, because he can throw anything at any time for a strike, it makes him tough.

"And he's a very tough competitor. We feel good when Darvish matches up against the best the other team has or the best in the AL."