Yu Darvish literally came within inches of perfection.
Darvish was one out from a perfect game when Marwin Gonzalez grounded a clean single through the pitcher’s legs, and Texas beat the Houston Astros 7-0 on Tuesday night.
A screen shot of the play showed the ball sail what looked to be less than a foot below the pitcher’s glove and into the outfield.
“That was impossible to catch,” Darvish said through a translator.
The celebrated right-hander from Japan struck out a career-high 14 and was in complete control before Gonzalez smacked the first pitch he saw up the middle. Darvish was unable to get his glove down in time and the ball skittered into center field well beyond a desperate dive by shortstop Elvis Andrus.
At that moment, one thought went through Darvish’s mind.
“I can now go back to the dugout,” he deadpanned. “Even if I got the complete game today, it’s not going to translate to three or five wins. It’s a win. A win’s a win.”
Darvish smiled and put up his hands — as if to say, “Oh well, it happens.” Texas’ infielders quickly came to the mound, and manager Ron Washington joined them.
“I didn’t want to be the last out,” Gonzalez said. “I was trying to look for a good pitch to hit and put it in play. That’s all I was thinking.”
Washington patted Darvish on the chest and then signaled for a reliever. A crowd of 22,673 that included plenty of Rangers fans cheered Darvish as he walked off after 111 pitches. He stopped and tipped his cap before getting high-fives from teammates in the dugout. He sat on the bench to watch the rest of the game then joined the handshake line after the final out.
And if Darvish was upset about coming oh so close, he didn’t show it.
“I went that far,” he said. “I’m really satisfied.”
Working from the stretch throughout — even though he never needed to — Darvish became the first pitcher to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning since Armando Galarraga on June 2, 2010. Of course, the Detroit pitcher was denied only because of an infamous missed call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce, who later admitted he blew the play.
On the second full day of the major league season, Darvish nearly picked up right where baseball left off last year, when there were a record three perfect games, thrown by Philip Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez.
“He threw all seven of his pitches in, out, up, down and every way you could throw a ball tonight,” said Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who caught Humber’s perfect game for the White Sox last season. “You get to that point and you start thinking it’s going to happen, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Darvish’s 14 strikeouts matched a Minute Maid Park record and were the most by a Rangers pitcher since Hall of Famer and current team CEO Nolan Ryan had 14 in July 1991 against the Angels.
Darvish arrived in the majors last year with much fanfare, having already been a five-time All-Star and two-time MVP in Japan. The Rangers paid more than $107 million to get him for five seasons.
The 6-foot-5 righty quickly settled in with Texas, becoming an All-Star last year on the way to going 16-9 with 221 strikeouts. He also once flirted with perfection, retiring the first 17 batters at Kansas City on Sept. 3.
“I think I got lucky today. I felt I pitched better against the Royals last year,” Darvish said. “I had better command in that outing.”
If he had been able to finish the job Tuesday, it would have been the earliest perfecto in history.
Darvish didn’t really need a dazzling play from his defense as he shut down the Astros and chased the 24th perfect game in big league history — including the one Don Larsen tossed in the 1956 World Series, and two in 1880.
Andrus was disappointed he couldn’t get to Gonzalez’s single.
“He hit the ball really good right up the middle,” Andrus said. “I tried really hard to get to it. I think I dove and it was like 10 feet from me. I was praying that at least his glove would touch it and slow it down, but he hit it pretty hard.”
It was almost the second time in 10 months the overmatched Astros failed to put a runner on base. Cain’s perfect game for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants came against Houston on June 13 last year.
Many expect the Astros to be the worst team in the majors this year, after two straight 100-loss seasons and a major league-low payroll under $22 million. But they cruised to an 8-2 win over Texas in the major league opener and their American League debut Sunday night.
The 26-year-old Darvish carried over a strong showing in spring training this year into near perfection in his first regular-season start. The Astros looked totally lost against him, often taking wild swings at breaking balls that bounced.
With the crowd on its feet and a mixture of cheers and “Yuuus” filling Minute Maid Park, Chris Carter took Darvish to a full count before striking out on the ninth pitch of the at-bat for the first out of the eighth inning.
Rick Ankiel followed by striking out and Justin Maxwell hit an easy grounder to second baseman Ian Kinsler.
Darvish looked toward the sky for a couple of seconds before retreating to the dugout.
He began the ninth by getting two easy groundouts before Gonzalez ruined his bid. The 24-year-old Gonzalez made his big league debut last year, hitting .234 in 80 games for Houston.
Darvish, who played seven professional seasons in Japan before joining the Rangers, set rookie franchise records for wins and strikeouts last season. He finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Mike Trout and Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
The win gives Darvish five straight regular-season victories dating to last season. He took the loss in the Rangers’ 5-1 loss to Baltimore in the AL wild-card game.
Using his dizzying array of pitches, including a fastball that topped out at 97 mph, a slider, and 95 mph cutters, Darvish bedeviled the mostly inexperienced Houston hitters.
Darvish (1-0) sailed through the first four innings, striking out nine, including the side in the second and fourth.
Carter hit a long fly that looked as though it could be gone before David Murphy caught it just in front of the left-center wall for the first out of the fifth.
“I really thought it was a home run,” Darvish said.
Michael Kirkman relieved Darvish after Gonzalez’s hit. Jose Altuve followed with a single before Kirkman fanned pinch-hitter J.D. Martinez to end it.
Darvish has never thrown a complete game in the majors.
Lucas Harrell (0-1) allowed six hits and one run with four strikeouts in six innings for Houston.
Lance Berkman had a run-scoring single in the third against his former team. Kinsler hit a two-run homer off Rhiner Cruz in the seventh to make it 3-0. Texas added two runs in the eighth and two in the ninth.
Yu Darvish literally came within inches of perfection.
Area schedule for the week
Here's a look at this week's schedule for Golden Ciircle teams and Navarro College. The schedule does not include upcoming bi-district playoff games in softball because times and sites have yet to be determined.
GC Baseball/Softball: Blooming Grove sweeps Rice in baseball and softball
Blooming Grove's Lions needed this one.
Heck, they need all of them.
That's where they're living today on the Blooming Grove diamond, where everyone knew going into Friday's game with Rice that the Lions need to win their final three games to have a chance of nailing down the final playoff spot in District 23-2A.
One down, two to go.
“It's in our hands,'' said Blooming Grove Coach Matt Anderson moments after his kids beat Rice 8-0 Friday night. “As long as we take care of our business we'll be fine.''
GC Softball/Baseball Roundup: Frost girls win district title
Frost's Lady Polar Bears needed to win to nail down the district title and they never trailed, jumping out to a 7-0 lead en route to an 11-7 clinching victory over Itasca Friday on the road. They wrapped up their second district title in a row with a 9-1 record and enter the playoffs next week at 13-1.
CHS Baseball/Softball: Whitehouse sweeps Tigers in baseball and softball
The Tigers lost a tough game to Whitehouse, 11-3 as the Wildcats' ace, Pat Mahomes, who went four innings and gave up all three runs on two hits and five walks
GC Basketball/Baseball: Mildred's Connor Hill sees life clearly
There was never any doubt for Connor Hill, never any question about what he would do or how he would do it.
Sure, there was that meeting with his mother and father and talks with the doctor when he was 10, talks and meetings that came accompanied with worry and concern.
But never from Connor.
He just never dwelled on the fact he played sports with one eye. He didn't worry or talk about it when he was 10 and he never talked about it at Mildred High, where Hill emerged as a star on the basketball court and baseball diamond.
GC Track & Field: Roundup — Frost girls win area meet
The Frost Lady Polar Bears made a shambles of their district track & field meet last week, scoring 206 points, and they were dominate again in the area meet Thursday, scoring 162 points to win the meet at Blooming Grove.
Morgan:The new endangered species
Am I just that old, or have amateur athletics gone absolutely nuts these days? On second thought, don’t answer that unless it’s yes to the nuts part.
High School and college basketball are on the verge of being totally ruined by AAU basketball. Top roundball prospects are identified by the junior high level if not earlier.
GC Track & Field: Area meet Roundup
Corsicana's Gilfillan wins 4A area pole vault title; Frost girls win 1A area team title, Frost boys finish second
GC Baseball: Mildred falls to Riesel, 9-0, on the road
Mildred managed a hit and struck out 12 times in a 9-0 loss on the road that could have given the Eagles some cushion in the 23-2A standings. They are now 5-6 with a game at league-leading Teague Tuesday.
CHS Soccer: Tigers boys and girls top off season with strong showing on All-District teams
That tough and gutsy style of play sent both the boys and girls teams into the playoffs and on Thursday the Tigers were rewarded again for their fine seasons as two boys won special honors,four boys were named to the All-District first team and two girls earned first-team honors.
Michael Roman, who did a little of everything — and did it well — was named the District 28-4A Utility Player of the Year, and sophomore defender Jesus Barreto was named the district's Newcomer of the Year.
- More Sports Headlines
- Area schedule for the week