Yu Darvish began his delivery in the fourth inning on Saturday, bending his back leg, reaching back with his right arm and driving forward. In a fluke, the Cubs' starter pulled his glove off in the process, but he did not let it deter his momentum.
As Darvish's glove dropped to the dirt between his feet in the Cubs' 3-0 win over the Reds in the opener of a doubleheader, he completed the splitter to Freddy Galvis, who flailed and fouled off the pitch. The pitcher then stood, his eyes darting around the infield at his teammates, and broke into a smile as he retrieved the leather from the mound.
“That never happened to me before,” Darvish said. “I tried to throw a splitter. I don't know how that happened, but it works. That was the best splitter in this game. I hope I can throw that pitch next game, too.”
Even during a humorous blunder, Darvish got the result, and eventually, the victory.
In a matchup of National League Cy Young Award contenders, Darvish outdueled Reds righty Trevor Bauer and was helped by a pair of homers from Anthony Rizzo in the seven-inning contest. The Cubs’ starter headed into the afternoon with a 1.70 ERA, while Bauer came in a touch ahead of him at 1.65 for Cincinnati.
Both pitchers feature a wide array of offerings, with Darvish's repertoire believed to be in the double digits. Was the glove drop a new pitch? Curveball, cutter, slider, splitter and ... glover?
Darvish laughed when asked if he had unveiled his latest weapon.
“Yeah, I think so,” he quipped.
Not really, but Darvish's ability to remain focused throughout that blip was another snapshot of his dominance dating back to last summer.
The Cubs drove up Bauer's pitch count with a series of lengthy, exhausting plate appearances.
That began with a nine-pitch leadoff at-bat from Ian Happ in the first and continued with a 30-pitch showing from Bauer in the second. In the third, Rizzo completed a nine-pitch battle with a homer to right that gave the Cubs a 2-0 advantage. The first baseman struck again with a leadoff blast in the sixth.
Bauer exited after toiling through a season-high 112 pitches in a season-low 5 1/3 innings.
The Reds threatened to break through against Darvish at multiple turns, too.
In the second, Cincinnati had runners on first and second with two outs, but Darvish escaped with a flyout off the bat of Mark Payton. In the third, Joey Votto doubled with one out, Jesse Winker drew a two-out walk and Darvish dodged trouble with a strikeout of slugger Eugenio Suárez.
Mike Moustakas led off the fourth with a single, but then Galvis -- not long after the glove drop happened -- grounded into a double play. Two more runners reached. Darvish found his way out of the jam once again, inducing an inning-ending flyout from Tucker Barnhart this time.
“For me personally, his velocity varied from 68 mph to the last pitch he threw me at 97,” Barnhart said. “When you’ve got [a] 30 mph difference between the pitches you see that day, it makes it a little difficult. He’s a guy that throws so many breaking balls that it almost seems crazy to try not to think about 97-98, but you have to.
“You have to approach it that way where it’s still in the back of your mind. We hit some balls hard and had some stuff going. It just seemed like he pitched his way out of it.”
Cubs manager David Ross had a similar summation.
“It's just really tough to size up,” Ross said, “and you always have to respect the 97 in his back pocket. And, oh yeah, he's got a really good split-finger. So it's just tough to game plan for him when you're in the box and he's executing pitches. You just never know what he's going to throw.”
Darvish's most critical moment arrived in the fifth.
First, Votto and Nick Castellanos reached with consecutive singles. Darvish responded with back-to-back called strikeouts against Winker and Suárez, but then walked Moustakas to load the bases. After a brief visit with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, Darvish got Galvis to chop into a first-pitch groundout for another zero.
With his six shutout innings, Darvish lowered his season ERA to 1.47, which includes a 0.92 ERA in his past six starts. Dating back to the start of the second half last season, Darvish has spun a 2.31 ERA to go along with 170 strikeouts, 15 walks and a .207/.242/.354 opponents' slash line in 124 2/3 innings.
“You hear about this guy coming in and how much he can do with the baseball,” Ross said. “And then to see it -- I think he's just at a point where he's really comfortable in who he is. There's so much to be said for that.”