Two solo shots cost otherwise dominant Darvish

October 19th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Yu Darvish was bloodied Tuesday night, in the literal sense. Then in the figurative sense, too.

Pitching with a blood stain on his pants leg above his right knee, Darvish held the Phillies to three hits over seven innings in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. But two of those hits cleared the Petco Park walls, the difference in the Padres’ 2-0 loss.

Darvish was vintage Darvish, striking out seven with an array of a half-dozen pitch selections. He induced 11 swinging strikes and walked only one batter.

“Those are the types of games that give you a chance to win,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “We just couldn’t do enough offensively.”

Darvish ran into a Phillies team that got an even better performance from its co-ace, Zack Wheeler, and the two homers from its top sluggers, Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber.

Wheeler outdueled Darvish by throwing seven scoreless innings while allowing one hit. Harper staked Wheeler to a 1-0 lead by poking an opposite-field homer just over the left-field wall in the fourth inning.

The 368-footer would have been a home run in only 14 MLB ballparks, per Statcast, but its 42-degree launch angle got it just far enough to go out. Harper recalled the words of Padres third-base coach Matt Williams, his former manager with the Nationals.

“It's funny thinking about it,” Harper said, “because Matt Williams used to say, ‘It's not how far, it's how many.’ That was just enough.”

That homer was a mere nick compared to what came two innings later.

Darvish made one of his few mistake pitches, and Schwarber punished him for it. The 87.2 mph cutter on the first pitch of the sixth inning lingered over the heart of the plate, belt-high. Schwarber, a left-handed hitter, pulled it 488 feet to right field, the longest home run in Petco Park history and the second-longest in the postseason since Statcast tracking began in 2015, behind the Cubs’ Willson Contreras in the 2017 NLCS.

“That’s on me; that’s my mistake,” Darvish said, via translator Shingo Horie. “I knew he was waiting on something offspeed, and the ball kind of went into the middle there. He got the most out of that at-bat.”

Darvish had one other mistake -- Schwarber wasn’t actually looking offspeed.

“I was on fastball and saw it spinning in the middle,” Schwarber said.

Schwarber had one previous homer against Darvish -- in the 2017 NLCS. They then spent three seasons as teammates in Chicago.

“He's a friend of mine,” Darvish said. “Every time we meet, we greet each other and all that. Next time I meet him, I might have to punch him.”

The blood on Darvish’s uniform wasn’t the result of any sort of fisticuffs. It was because of his pitching motion.

“That actually happens quite often,” Darvish said. “The cleats on my left side hit the knee area, kind of graze it and cause it to bleed a little bit. I’ve been dealing with that.”

One thing Darvish has never dealt with in his two seasons with the Padres is a postseason loss. He started the Padres’ first win in both the NL Wild Card Series against the Mets and the NL Division Series against the Dodgers.

His pitching line on Tuesday was superior to those outings, but the bottom line wasn’t.

“He was mixing it up a lot. He was unpredictable,” Padres catcher Austin Nola said. “Two solo home runs -- that’s a tough one. It’s a tough one to swallow because offensively, we’ve just got to do a better job.”