Darvish comes just shy of perfection in Rangers' win
Righty retires first 26 Astros before Gonzalez's two-out single in ninth
HOUSTON -- Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish is considered a good fielder and even won the Japanese equivalent of the Gold Glove back home. But this ground ball was hit too hard.
"That was impossible to catch," Darvish said about a ball smacked by Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez through his legs, ruining his chance of being the 24th pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game.
Shortstop Elvis Andrus was also frustrated that he couldn't get to the ball either.
"I was praying he could at least slow it down or touch it, knock it my way so I could do something," Andrus said. "I was going to see if I could dive for it, but it was a hard ground ball. There was nothing I could do."
The single, on Darvish's 111th pitch of the night, ruined his chance for Major League history after he had retired 26 straight hitters. But the Rangers still went on to a 7-0 victory over the Astros on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
"I think my teammates were a little more disappointed than I am," Darvish said. "Even if I got the [perfect] game, it doesn't translate to three to five wins. It's still just one win. I think my teammates were more disappointed than me."
Manager Ron Washington pulled Darvish after he gave up the single. Michael Kirkman took over and, after giving up a hit to Jose Altuve, struck out J.D. Martinez to end the game. Washington said 111 pitches were enough this early in the season and added Darvish was coming out no matter what once the bid for the perfect game was over.
"When he's throwing a perfect game, you want to let him get through it," Washington said. "If he had walked a guy or given up a hit, he was coming out. I'm glad it was a hit. If it was a walk, there would be darts in my back."
Darvish admitted he was fatigued in the ninth and said he had just one thought after Gonzalez hit his single.
"That I can now go back to the dugout," Darvish said.
Darvish was trying to throw the sixth no-hitter and the second perfect game in Rangers history. The last no-hitter was Kenny Rogers' perfect game on July 28, 1994, against the Angels. This is the first time a Rangers pitcher has lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth. Nolan Ryan threw two no-hitters for the Rangers and lost two more with one out in the ninth in 1989.
"I've learned to not think anything is over until it is," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "I was definitely thinking what the celebration would be like, but we never take an out for granted. If there is any team that should not take an out for granted, it's this one.
"You can say it's a little bit of a letdown, but it's so much fun to be a part of it whether he completes it or not. He just dominated. I guess this leaves him with something to improve upon."
Darvish was in control from the beginning, striking out the first two batters he faced. He ended up striking out a career-high 14 with a fastball that was clocked as high as 97 mph and an assortment of breaking balls that had the Astros flailing away all night.
"When you're throwing the ball as well as he's throwing, I thought he would get it," Washington said. "It just wasn't meant to be. He had all his pitches working -- curve and slider, splitter, he had a good sinker working, moved his fastball around. He threw the kitchen sink at them and he threw them all over the plate. He dominated them."
This is the ninth time in his first 30 Major League starts Darvish has struck out at least 10 batters in a game. Dwight Gooden did it 15 times in his first 30 games and Hideo Nomo did it 11 times. Darvish is tied for the third most along with Kerry Wood.
"I think the most impressive thing is he [changed speeds] on his fastball the whole night," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "He started out 89, 91 [mph] and when he needed to reach back -- you look up at the radar and it was going from 89 and then two pitches later, another fastball was 97. From a hitter's standpoint, when you have a guy [changing speeds] and he's able to throw his breaking stuff in any count, that makes it pretty tough."
Darvish opened the night by striking out nine of the first 12 batters he faced. In the fifth, Chris Carter led off with a fly to deep left that Darvish thought was a home run but David Murphy caught against the wall. Rick Ankiel followed with a line drive that first baseman Mitch Moreland snagged lunging high to his right. Those were the closest the Astros came to a hit before the ninth inning.
Astros starter Lucas Harrell stayed with Darvish for the most part, allowing just one run through six innings. But the Rangers broke the game open with six runs in the final three against the Astros' bullpen. At that point, it was all about Darvish and his quest for history.
"Probably in the fifth inning ... no one was coming close to me in the dugout," Darvish said. "That's when I became aware I was doing something special."
The only concern was the high number of strikeouts pushing his pitch count up more than the Rangers wanted, especially for this time of year. Darvish did not throw more than 80 pitches in a Spring Training game prior to his first start of the season.
"He never wavered," Washington said. "After he got out of the sixth inning, we would ask him every time he got off the field, 'How do you feel?' He said he felt good."
Darvish went into the ninth having thrown 107 pitches but needed just three pitches to retire Jason Castro and Carlos Corporan on ground balls. That left Gonzalez, the Astros' No. 9 hitter who had struck out and grounded to first in his two previous at-bats.
Darvish threw a 91-mph fastball and Gonzalez smacked a grounder up the middle. It went right between Darvish's legs and into center field for a single.
"I didn't want to be the last out," Gonzalez said. "I was trying to look for a good pitch to hit and put the ball in play. That's all I was thinking in my mind. The first two batters, J.C. and Corporan, he threw a fastball away the first pitch to them, and I realized he was going to throw it to me, too, and I was waiting on the pitch."
That ended Darvish's chance of what would have been the first no-hitter of his career on either side of the Pacific Ocean. He did not throw one even while dominating in Japan.
"I went that far ... I'm satisfied with that," Darvish said. "I was relaxed. I wanted to continue what I was doing in Spring Training, but I had a little more emotion tonight. Overall, I pitched well."