Misutā 3,000: Darvish reaches international K milestone

Right-hander stellar as Padres take opener vs. Dodgers in convincing fashion

September 3rd, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Yu Darvish has been striking out hitters professionally for a long, long time.

Long enough, that he made a bit of international baseball history on Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

Darvish’s fifth-inning strikeout of Cody Bellinger marked the 3,000th of his illustrious career, between Japan and MLB. Then he tacked on a few more -- nine in total on the night -- as the Padres delivered a statement victory over their Southern California rivals.

Darvish was at his dominant best, pitching seven scoreless innings and allowing just two hits as San Diego cruised to a 7-1 victory in Los Angeles. Elsewhere, both the Brewers and Phillies lost, giving the Padres some breathing room in the National League Wild Card race. They now lead Milwaukee by four games for the final playoff spot and moved ahead of Philadelphia by half a game into the league’s second Wild Card.

Darvish’s milestone was the cherry on top of a near-perfect evening for the Padres. (And this team doesn’t get many of those in Los Angeles.)

“Big win,” said Manny Machado, whose third-inning homer put the Padres on top for good. “We’re trying to put ourselves in good position. Just get in there. From now on -- it’s September -- they’re all going to be big.”

It's an awfully exclusive group of pitchers to record a combined 3,000 strikeouts between MLB and NPB with at least 1,000 in each league. And they're both presently employed by the Padres.

Darvish joins Japanese pitching icon Hideo Nomo as the only two players to achieve the milestone. Nomo, who serves as a Padres special adviser in the baseball operations department, finished with 3,122 combined strikeouts.

“Longevity and just being able to stay in the game for this long -- all in all, I’m grateful,” said Darvish, through a team interpreter. “I feel grateful right now.”

Friday night was vintage Darvish, who blended more than half a dozen types of pitches seamlessly to keep Dodgers hitters off-balance. For No. 3,000, he started Bellinger with three straight fastballs, then put him away with a back-foot slider -- his 1,750th strikeout across 10 seasons in the big leagues. (Innings-wise, he's the fastest in history to reach that number.)

Tack on his 1,250 strikeouts during his seven seasons pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan, and Darvish achieved quite a milestone on Friday night.

“Huge accomplishment,” Machado said. “That’s a … ton of strikeouts.”

“And he just keeps getting better,” added Jurickson Profar, Darvish’s longtime teammate in Texas.

“I don't think he's done at 3,000 -- I'll put it that way,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin.

At 36, Darvish is in the midst of another outstanding season, having posted a 3.26 ERA in 25 starts with a 0.97 WHIP and 18 straight outings of at least six innings pitched. He has been the steadiest presence in a rotation filled with big names.

So what’s the secret to Darvish’s strikeout wizardry?

Padres catcher Austin Nola summed it up best: “I’m just telling you right now, as a hitter, if a pitcher has more than three pitches working and you have two strikes, you’re in trouble,” Nola said. “If he has more than three working at a time, you’re in trouble. He’s got 10 pitches. If you eliminate seven of them, there’s still three left. … You get to two strikes, you’ve got 10 pitches to worry about. There’s a good chance you’re going to strike out.”

The Padres gave Darvish some early breathing room on Friday. Both Machado and Brandon Drury -- who later exited with what the team called a “head contusion” after being hit by an errant Dustin May curveball -- launched two-run homers off May during a four-run third inning. Profar put the game out of reach with a three-run blast in the sixth. 

Profar took three steps toward first base and flipped his bat emphatically, a moment of catharsis for a team that has endured its share of struggles against this particular division rival. The Padres had dropped eight of 10 against the Dodgers this season, outscored by a total of 55-18.

This weekend, they insist, is not about that. It’s not about the Dodgers.

“We have to win almost every game,” Profar said. “It doesn’t matter which team we’re going to play. The mindset is just to win every night.”

With Darvish on the mound, they usually have a good shot.