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Yu drowns out LA boos before Rizzo plays hero

@MLBastian
June 16, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- Yu Darvish heard it from the Dodger Stadium crowd when his name was announced before Saturday night’s game began. He heard it again when he first took the mound, and then later when he stepped into the batter’s box. The boos were out in force in L.A.,

LOS ANGELES -- Yu Darvish heard it from the Dodger Stadium crowd when his name was announced before Saturday night’s game began. He heard it again when he first took the mound, and then later when he stepped into the batter’s box.

The boos were out in force in L.A., but Darvish did not let them morph into a mental block in what he admitted was an important outing. In a 2-1 win, Darvish was brilliant in his first start in the stadium since taking the loss for the Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. And know that his days in Dodger blue were on Darvish's mind this weekend.

Box score

"This was really important in my life," Darvish said. "I think now I can move forward. I pitched good here."

Darvish walked away with a no-decision, but Anthony Rizzo sent the Cubs to the win column with a towering, two-run homer off closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning. With the victory, the Cubs moved back into a first-place tie with the Brewers atop the National League Central.

Over seven innings, Darvish piled up 10 strikeouts (seven called) with a fastball-heavy approach. The righty limited Los Angeles to two hits, finishing his outing with no hits allowed over a 13-batter stretch. It marked the first time that Darvish allowed no more than one run with at least 10 strikeouts and seven innings since Aug. 4, 2017. That was his Dodgers debut after being traded by Texas that summer.

There were positives within Darvish's time with the Dodgers, but the pitcher expected the negative response from the fans in attendance. Darvish defeated the Cubs in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series in 2017, but then allowed nine runs in 3 1/3 innings combined between Game 3 and Game 7 in the World Series loss to the Astros.

Dodgers righty Walker Buehler said he harbors no ill will about how Darvish's time in L.A. ended.

"Darvish, being back here, it was cool for us. We all like him," Buehler said. "I get where the fans are coming from, but at the same time, he's a good guy and it was fun pitching against him."

Rizzo called it "unfortunate" that the lineup's inability to break through early on against Buehler robbed Darvish of a chance to have a "W" next to his name in the box score. The first baseman said Darvish has made great strides with his teammates this season and they are thrilled to see the effort on that front being combined with improved results on the pitching mound.

"He's continued to get more comfortable from Spring Training until now," Rizzo said. "Just his presence overall, it's been amazing. It's been fun to watch him pitch and be accountable, come up to us guys and say things behind the scenes. To see him pitching with that edge is nice."

One example of what Rizzo was referencing fell on May 4, when Darvish had a rough outing against the Cardinals. After he exited that game, the pitcher spotted Javier Baez in the batting cage and Darvish apologized for putting the team in a tough position to win. Baez then went out and belted a go-ahead homer that day to propel Chicago to victory.

Darvish did not need to apologize for anything this time.

The Dodgers' lone breakthrough came in the fourth inning, when rookie Alex Verdugo ambushed a first-pitch fastball and sent it sailing out to right-center field. That marked Verdugo’s first shot since April 24, when he also went deep against the Cubs. Other than that, Darvish quieted the Dodgers' lineup with 86 percent of his offerings being some form of fastball (cutters, four-seamers and sinkers).

"Yu, you've got to give credit to him," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He came in here with a purpose and intent tonight and really pitched well. He kept the ball off the barrel, sequenced really well and we didn't really get a lot of good swings off him."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he appreciates the honesty Darvish has displayed leading up to games like this one. The mental side of the game is an important element for the pitcher.

During Spring Training, Darvish spoke about the importance of taking on Texas -- the team that signed him out of Japan -- during the Cubs' opening series. Nerves, combined with command woes, got the best of the righty in that one. Back in May, he also put added weight on the matchup with Phillies righty Jake Arrieta, the Cubs legend who left via free agency the same winter Darvish arrived via a blockbuster contract.

Darvish turned in a quality start against Arrieta and has been making steady progress in the weeks since. Over his past eight turns for Chicago, the right-hander has a 3.86 ERA and has struck out 28 percent of his batters faced.

"Yu talks about what's going on in there. He doesn't hold back," Maddon said. "He knows that he had to get by certain hurdles, and I love the fact that he addresses them straight up. He does not sidestep them. He doesn't tap-dance them. Highly accountable.

"This situation here with him, back to Dodger Stadium -- a bad moment that had happened in the past in his career -- and all of a sudden, he's able to put that in the rear-view mirror."

Given the game's outcome, Darvish was even able to joke about the boos.

"I thought [there’d be] more," Darvish said.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.