Darvish's first win at Wrigley is a scoreless gem

Bryant, Russell homer behind right-hander's 2-hit effort

July 17th, 2019

CHICAGO -- There was a baseball sitting atop a shelf in Yu Darvish's locker on Wednesday, secured in a plastic case with a yellow note on the side citing its significance. The ball commemorated Darvish's first win at Wrigley Field in his career, but most importantly achieved while wearing a Cubs uniform.

"I will give it to my wife," Darvish said. "Maybe."

He considered that scenario in his mind and then smirked.

"Maybe she doesn't want it," he joked.

In the wake of a 5-2 win over the Reds, Darvish was able to laugh, because the streak was over. Finally, following 14 winless starts in the Cubs' 105-year-old ballpark over parts of two seasons, following that $126 million contract and all the expectations that came packaged with the six-year pact, Darvish was credited with a win in front of the home crowd. And he earned it with six overpowering shutout innings.

The win as a statistic has lost the weight it once carried for evaluating and understanding a pitcher's abilities on the mound. Still, there is a column reserved for that number on baseball's leaderboards and it remains part of the fabric of the game.

And earning a "W" at the Friendly Confines mattered to Darvish. It mattered a lot.

"It's amazing," Darvish said. "First win at Wrigley. I was always looking for that."

Prior to his performance against Cincinnati, there had been 23 Cubs pitchers to pick up a win at Wrigley Field dating back to the start of the 2018 campaign. The list runs from Adbert Alzolay to Rob Zastryzny, with Jon Lester leading the charge with 13 victories over that time period.

Darvish entered the afternoon 0-6 with a 5.42 ERA in his career at the Cubs' home park, and had gone 0-3 with a 5.53 ERA in 10 starts at Wrigley this season. The right-hander had not picked up a win anywhere since April 27 in Arizona, rattling off 12 no-decisions in the next 13 starts. That included tying an MLB record with 10 consecutive no-decisions (excluding openers).

Darvish convinced the Cubs to hand him the ball in the second-half opener on Friday, and he responded with six shutout innings at home against the Pirates. Chicago won that one, but the runs poured in after Darvish's departure. That outing was, however, a bit of foreshadowing for what the Reds had in store.

"I don't think he's out there wondering what to do next," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Darvish's recent outings. "I think he's calculating what to do next."

In his performance against Pittsburgh, Darvish mixed things up, leaning on seven different pitches in an impressive showing. The righty narrowed things down to a four-pitch arsenal on Wednesday -- four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter and slider -- and kept cruising. Darvish specifically leaned on his four-seam fastball, firing it 41 times and maxing out at 98.3 mph.

And Darvish was demonstrative on the mound, too.

Following a 98-mph fastball that blazed by Yasiel Puig's bat to end the sixth inning, Darvish turned on the hill, pumped his fist twice and let out a shout. That show of emotion provided the exclamation point on an afternoon that featured seven strikeouts, no walks and only two scattered hits from the Cubs right-hander.

Darvish carried a no-hitter into the fifth and out-dueled Sonny Gray, whose only setbacks were a pair of solo home runs to Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.

"He's more of an animal on the mound," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Darvish. "The grunting there in the sixth, reaching back when he needs it, being smart -- he's got confidence in his fastball. It's fun to play behind."

That -- confidence -- was the buzzword used not only by Rizzo, but also by Maddon and Darvish.

"The more confident he is, the better off we are," Rizzo said.

The Cubs are currently without lefty Cole Hamels (on the 10-day injured list with a left oblique injury) and got righty Kyle Hendricks recently back from an arm issue. Getting Darvish into a dominant mode would be huge for a Chicago club that is trying to stay atop the National League Central and separate from the pack.

Darvish has done well since the All-Star break, amassing 15 strikeouts against one walk in 12 shutout innings.

Maddon said he has never seen Darvish this confident in his fastball command. The pitcher noted that he has made some adjustments to improve against left-handed batters. All the ups and downs with the righty's wide-ranging repertoire have seemingly culminated in these past two brilliant showings.

"I don't need anything right now," Darvish said. "It's perfect, everything."

That includes that new memento in his locker.