Toward the end of yesterday’s report, I casually suggested:
“I don’t really care how the Rangers win tonight. I’d rather see Darvish put up a Lee-like clunker line in a Texas victory than see him deal like Harrison in a loss.”
When I wrote that, I didn’t imagine last night would be so awful, or so awesome.
The range of sports-emotions that the first inning put me through was as exhausting as the 74 pitches and 11 baserunners, as scattered as Yu Darvish and Hector Noesi’s command of the strike zone.
I’ve seen lots of baseball. But just one inning in last night, I’d never seen anything like what was unfolding.
Following three teammates who had delivered quality starts to open the season, Darvish lost his chance at one before recording his second big league out, a bases-loaded strikeout of the ninth man in the order and in the inning. Folks felt compelled to start tweeting about Dirk Nowitzki’s NBA debut, a night on which he started but went 0 for 5 from the field, scoring his two points from the stripe.
Against Seattle, by the way.
Who started an aging Detlef Schrempf, who for Dirk was Darvish’s Ichiro.
Ichiro, who hit safely and scored in each of the first two innings.
I bet Darvish had never seen offense like that.
Or like that.
The idea, after the top of the first and even the top of the second, that Texas would win that game handily was no more implausible than the idea that the Rangers would merely manage to outhit the Mariners (12 to 11) or outwalk them (5 to 4). Just as things began to settle on one side, they began to unravel on the other.
Four of the dozen Texas hits left the yard, each in majestic fashion: a Nelson Cruz game-tying missile to left in the third with Pudge Rodriguez pop time, a Mitch Moreland rocket shot to right that gave Texas a mind-blowing lead in the fourth, a Josh Hamilton light tower blast to center three batters later, and a game-icing three-run shot by Ian Kinsler in the eighth, minutes before the announcement came down that he and the club had come to terms on a Ranger-for-life deal that led his agent Jay Franklin to say:
They stepped out on a limb here and paid a guy with two years left on his contract the highest AAV ever given to a second baseman. The Texas Rangers are absolutely committed to keeping a winner here. They want to establish a dynasty. Quite frankly, they didn’t need to extend Ian. . . . I didn’t think this would happen. JD, Thad and I wrestled for a week or two weeks straight. At the end of the day, we agreed on what this guy means to the organization and the community.
Kinsler is now one of very few players in baseball locked up through 2017. Only two are pitchers.
Matt Cain and Yu Darvish.
It’s not a stretch to believe Darvish may not have another inning as a Ranger like his first for the club. His first five pitches missed the zone, most of them by a lot. The first five hitters started off 1-0. The fastballs were up, the breaking balls down. Six straight Mariners reached safely at one point, and Darvish suffered the indignity of seeing Scott Feldman getting loose in the bullpen that he’d just emerged from himself.
Overall in the top of the first inning: Twenty balls and 22 strikes. Two roped singles and two ducksnorts, three walks, a wild pitch. A 4-0 deficit as the number nine hitter trotted to the plate with only out.
The amazing energy in the crowd – I don’t remember anything like it in a regular-season game – was really weird as Darvish’s night threatened to come to an end before Texas had the chance to hit. It was still lively, but there was this nervous encouragement vibe, like 40,000 parents trying to put on the good face as they tried to help get their kid through a talent show catastrophe.
But Darvish never looked rattled, at least in his face. He had a fascinating comment for the press after the game about the first inning: “When I stepped on the mound for the first time, I was very calm. I felt very calm mentally, but my body felt like it wanted to go and go and go. My mind and my body were not on the same page.”
Ron Washington’s observation: “It wasn’t like he was scared or nervous. He was over-amped.”
Darvish: “All my pitches I had a hard time commanding. It was more of a mental battle. I just tried to stay in there and battle.”
Washington let him. It paid off.
Over the 4.2 innings that followed the brutal first, Darvish allowed one run on four hits and one walk, fanning three. After the 42-pitch first, he followed with frames of 13, 19, 11, 13, and 12. At one point Darvish retired 10 straight Mariners, a stretch that began with Texas down, 5-2, and ended with the Rangers up, 8-5.
Two batters later, Washington took a step out of the dugout, and his slow walk toward the mound was accompanied by a roar that just didn’t fit a 5.2-8-5-5-4-5 line, until you factored in the 4-1-0-0-0-0 next to the word Seattle on the video board and the substance of the battle that the huge crowd had witnessed – not a battle against so much as a battle through.
“I told him I was proud of him, proud of the way he hung in, and battled, and kept going,” Washington would tell reporters. “He’s a warrior, we know that, and he showed that tonight.”
That’s what you say about the best ones, who on their worst nights refuse to cave. They find a way. They settle things down. They reach down and they battle.
On a more pointed subject, the matter of the big league development of a rotation horse, Jason Parks said it best on Twitter, and he said it during the first inning of Darvish’s big league career, an inning none of us will forget: “This inning could be the best thing for Darvish’s development. Failure and response to failure is the backbone of baseball.”
The four runs Darvish allowed in the first inning were more runs he’d allowed in an entire game since his first start in 2011 (seven runs in seven innings). And the five runs he allowed in his first start in 2010 were as many as he’d allow in a start all season. It’s oddly a common phenomenon for Darvish, whose apparent difficulty syncing up his mind and body the first time out of the gate each season will be just fine if, like in 2010 and 2011, we’ve just seen the most runs allowed we’ll see from him all year.
It was an incredible night of baseball. Just once I’d like to be as locked in as Josh, to hit a ball like the one Cruz hit, to play infield as effortlessly as Kins.
But it might be even cooler to pitch in front of a lineup like this one, and that’s got to be part of what Darvish takes away as a debut that teetered on the ledge of disaster for half an hour ended up as an opportunity to straighten things out, to keep his team in the game, and to soak things in as 40,000-plus got on their feet and reached down for whatever was left of their voices as Ron Washington took the ball from the man who, against all reason, or maybe not, remains an undefeated Major League pitcher.