No Yu for you.
We all remember the avalanche of stories and tweets on December 16 and 17 and 18 and 19, increasing in force as they increased in volume, delivering the message that when Nippon Ham got around to announcing the high bid for Yu Darvish, it was a virtual lock that MLB would then announce that the bid belonged to the Toronto Blue Jays.
I don’t know how Toronto fans are going to greet Darvish when he takes the mound tonight. (I haven’t checked in with Nouveau-Bergeron). This isn’t like Cliff Lee or Todd Stottlemyre or Kiki Vandeweghe, since Darvish had no say in where he’d play. He’s no more guilty of not being a Blue Jay than Mike Napoli, whose tenure with that club lasted as long as that four-day Darvish-to-Toronto tweet-binge, as he was traded to the Jays by Los Angeles with Frosty Rivera for Vernon Wells on January 21, 2011, and flipped to Texas for Frankie Francisco four days later.
When the bottom of the first gets rolling tonight, Darvish will toe the rubber, maybe from the stretch, and maybe with Napoli a little more than 60 feet away, flashing signs as Yunel Escobar digs in at the plate. Maybe the Darvish thing won’t register with the crowd any more than a Darvish start would in Chicago or Baltimore or Arizona. Maybe Jays fans don’t spend any time wondering what 12-10 and two games back might have looked like if Darvish were in the Toronto rotation rather than the tandem of Drew Hutchison and Joel Carreno, or what the next however-many years might have looked like with Darvish joining Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow in the rotation along with Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek (who is a what-might-have-been himself for Texas, though on a smaller scale).
I have no idea how bummed Jays fans are about how the winter played out, or if their crowds (under 25,000 so far this year) tend more toward the indifferent. Indifference is bad. Although it seems like a generation ago now, there was a time not too long ago when the Rangers crowd didn’t get as worked up, in either direction, as the storylines might have called for.
When the 2008 season started, Texas was fielding its first team in years without Mark Teixeira. Ben Broussard was the Opening Day first baseman. Relieving Kevin Millwood that afternoon in Seattle was the memorable tandem of Kazuo Fukumori and Franklyn German, the latter of whom, I promise, is not Fernando Rodney. The Rangers had 13 home dates in April. In eight of them they drew crowds in the teens of thousands.
Ron Washington was in his second year as Texas manager, having led the club to 75 wins and last place in the division (after three straight seasons of third-place finishes) in 2007. There are stories that, as that April 2008 drew to an end, if it weren’t for the Rangers’ annual Triple Play charity event on the final Sunday of the month, a gathering that involved all Rangers players and coaches plus key members of management and ownership and thousands of fans, Washington might have been fired that weekend. Texas had lost 12 of 14 coming into a three-game series against the Twins, and was on a seven-game losing streak that included five losses of at least five runs.
The stories go on to suggest that if Washington’s birthday weren’t on April 29, he might have been let go on the 28th, a club off-day that followed the Sunday night event.
But the Rangers then started winning baseball games. Starting with that Minnesota series, they rattled off six of eight, which grew to 11 of 15, and 15 of 21. Washington’s job was safe.
Texas would win 79 games that season, and finish second in the West.
The club would win 87 games the next year, and finish second again, though this time 11 games closer in the division and eight games closer in the Wild Card chase.
The Rangers would win 90 games the next year, winning the division and the American League pennant.
They would win 96 games the year after that, again winning the division and the pennant and coming a lot closer to a World Series title than they had in 2010.
Texas owns a share of baseball’s best record today, at 16-6. Darvish will get the assignment to keep the train rolling. He missed last night’s series finale with Tampa Bay, as the Rangers flew him (and tomorrow’s starter, Neftali Feliz) to Toronto ahead of the team to avoid a red-eye flight.
In the first base dugout tonight will be Washington, who missed the final two innings last night himself. He turned 60 yesterday and now has an 0-5 record on his birthday. His best birthday result came in 2009, when a home date with Oakland was rained out.
His career April 29 record didn’t get any better last night, but Washington’s managerial record gets better every year, and so lately have the numbers of fans flocking to Rangers Ballpark. Attendance has gone up every year since 2008, and is on pace to clear 3.2 million fans in 2012, which would break last year’s franchise-record 2.947 million.
Tonight will be unfamiliar territory for Texas, which has played all but one of its 22 games this year – home and road – in front of at least 30,000 fans (the exception being a 25,000-fan crowd on April 10 against Seattle). Since the first week of the season, Toronto has had three weekday games, and drew under 20,000 fans each time.
I don’t know if the Darvish phenomenon will bring a bigger crowd out to Rogers Centre tonight, or whether Jays fans harbor any real feelings about the realities that Darvish never got to them and Napoli didn’t stay, but if some segment of that fan base is encouraged by the fact that the Rangers have finally lost a series in 2012, or that Josh Hamilton may be limited after back spasms chased him last night four innings before Dan Bellino ran Washington, they ought to re-rack things and understand that they missed out not only on Darvish but also on drawing Texas on Washington’s birthday, and that the Rangers have won a formidable two out of the last three April 30’s, and three out of four.