SAN DIEGO -- Perhaps the surest sign that the Padres are in a funk: They lost a game started by Yu Darvish.
Wednesday marked Darvish’s 13th start this season -- and only the second of his outings that ended in a Padres defeat. San Diego’s underperforming offense fell flat in a 3-1 loss to the Cubs, spoiling Darvish’s chance to beat his former team.
Darvish has been an ace in the big leagues for the better part of a decade, but it was in Chicago where he took his game to a different level. It was in Chicago where Darvish was liberated to explore and expand his full repertoire of pitches.
“I had some ups and downs in Chicago, good times and bad times, looking in retrospect,” Darvish said. “... I had a tremendous amount of support to get through my years there. So there’s a sense of gratefulness.”
Facing the Cubs for the first time since he was acquired by San Diego in December, Darvish put his bag of tricks on full display on Wednesday afternoon. He mixed and matched and spun his way to seven excellent innings, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out eight.
When Darvish came to bat in the third inning, he did so with "Intoxicated" by Martin Solveig and GTA blaring through the Petco Park sound system -- Anthony Rizzo’s signature walk-up music. Rizzo, on first base, raised his hands in disbelief. Darvish grinned as he approached the plate.
Afterward, Darvish wanted to make clear it was a gesture of respect.
“I used that song because it was Rizzo that really took care of me when things weren't working my way in Chicago,” Darvish said. “So it was, in a way, to say thank you to him. Obviously I have a good relationship with him.”
After signing a lucrative six-year deal with the Cubs prior to the 2018 season, Darvish struggled for a season and a half. Then, midway through ‘19, it all came together. Darvish blossomed into one of baseball’s preeminent aces -- and one of the sport’s most exciting pitchers to watch, seamlessly blending nearly a dozen pitches.
Little has changed since Darvish landed with San Diego, with whom he owns a 2.28 ERA through 13 outings. He was sharp again in the series finale, allowing only a homer to Joc Pederson and another run in the seventh on Rizzo’s double-play grounder.
“He was really good today,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “He threw some power fastballs through the zone, the cutter/slider/curveball combination, a couple splitters -- he had everything working.”
In a rare turn of events, however, San Diego squandered Darvish’s efforts. That’s the way things have gone lately for the Padres, who are 3-8 in their last 11 games, having scored two runs or fewer in seven of them.
“Certainly offensively, the guys, they’re pressing, they’re trying to do too much,” said Tingler. “Each guy individually is probably trying to do a little too much to pick up their teammates. The reality is, sometimes we’ve got to simplify things.”
The Padres’ offense projected as one of the best in baseball entering the season, but their .681 OPS ranks 21st. Particularly, the middle of their order around Fernando Tatis Jr. has slumped. Manny Machado (.734 OPS), Wil Myers (.708) and Eric Hosmer (.690) have all posted numbers well below their career averages.
Machado drove in Tommy Pham with an RBI single in the bottom of the third inning, giving the Padres an early 1-0 lead, but they mustered just one baserunner over the final six innings.
Pederson would tie the game half an inning after Machado’s single -- before mimicking Fernando Tatis Jr.’s stutter step around third base. Again, like with Darvish’s walk-up music, this was a gesture of respect, Pederson said.
“I see Tatis,” Pederson said. “He has a lot of homers. He's done it. He's having fun out there. He's got some of the most swag in the game. … If I keep hitting homers, I'm going to keep doing it.”
Game recognize game.
Pederson’s homer was the only offense the Cubs would muster against Darvish until the seventh inning, when the Padres opted to play their infield back with the go-ahead run on third base. Rizzo bounced softly to second baseman Jake Cronenworth, who didn’t have a play at the plate and settled for the double play instead.
Sergio Alcántara homered an inning later off reliever Emilio Pagán, and that two-run mountain was too steep for this slumping Padres offense to climb. The task doesn’t get any easier with Jacob deGrom and the Mets in New York on Friday night, but San Diego will at least push the reset button on Thursday with its first off-day after 20 straight games.
“Let’s get through the off-day, and we know it’s going to be a big challenge on Friday with deGrom,” Tingler said. “But if we can find a way to get that one, that’s got a chance to really turn things around and get [us] going.”