Darvish proves once a Fighter, always a fighter

Padres' ace tosses 7 scoreless frames, harkens back to Japan with fans' cheers

June 4th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- Three balls, two strikes, two outs in the seventh, and a sellout Petco Park crowd reached a crescendo in unison. 

First, merely a wall of anticipatory noise. 

Then, slowly, one big collective “Yuuuuuuuuuu.”

Right-hander was about to throw his 115th pitch of the night. He’d allowed just two hits, neither of which left the infield. Moments later, Darvish put the finishing touches on his seven scoreless innings by getting Mike Tauchman to ground out. As Darvish walked toward the dugout, those fans greeted him with a standing ovation.

Quite a moment, really. An inning later, launched his second home run of the night, and the Padres were on their way to a 6-0 victory over the Cubs. After the game, Darvish would note that the moment came with a touch of nostalgia.

“When I was pitching back in Japan, when I used to pitch for the Fighters, in a situation like that with two strikes, three balls, the fans would really come behind me and cheer me over there,” Darvish said. “I was out there today, and the same thing happened. It really reminded me of those days.”

In what’s been a turbulent season for the Padres thus far, moments like that one have proven few and far between. As such, this one was worth savoring.

“It was great,” Tatis said. “It was our whole team playing great baseball, and it started with Yu Darvish giving us seven shutties.”

Indeed, Darvish was brilliant on Saturday. He struck out nine and allowed just one walk, throwing as many pitches in a game as he had since June 2017. He kept his former team off-balance by relying more heavily than usual on his two-seamer. Darvish entered Saturday throwing the pitch at a 10.6% clip. Then, he used it more than a third of the time against the Cubs.

“I think that's the most fastballs I've ever seen him throw,” said Cubs manager David Ross, who would know – he once managed Darvish, after all. “So kudos to him. Threw a lot of two-seamers, locked up the lefties with the front hip. I mean, he had that going all day long. Those guys couldn't even pull the trigger with two strikes.”

Offensively, the Padres gave Darvish early support Saturday night. They plated two in the second with a sac bunt, a sac fly and Trent Grisham’s two-out double. Darvish had all the cushion he would need.

It hasn’t always gone that way this year. The San Diego pitching staff has been mostly excellent. But too often, the offense’s underperformance meant those efforts went for naught.

It made a night like Saturday so utterly necessary. Darvish was at his dominant best. And the Petco Park crowd was able to fully revel in it.

“We owe ‘em a little something back for kind of the way we’ve performed this year,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “So it felt like one of those games where we were invested early, our fans got into it, and we kind of rode their wave.”

This was how it was always supposed to be. Saturday’s sellout was the Padres’ 19th of the season already. There haven’t been many like this one.

Darvish’s dominance ensured a party atmosphere throughout the night. The Padres’ defense backed him in a big way, particularly an outstanding play from second baseman . Kim ranged beyond the second-base bag, then threw to first on the run to nab Dansby Swanson to end the fourth inning.

Tatis provided the finishing touches. Both of his home runs landed in the San Diego bullpen, and the second practically interrupted closer ’s warm-up. No matter. That three-run blast doubled the Padres lead, anyway, putting the game out of reach.

The home run ball was probably still ricocheting in the bullpen when Hader sat down and Brent Honeywell began to get hot.

Honeywell finished the game with a scoreless ninth, during which the fans in right field serenaded Tatis with chants of his name. At one point, between pitches, Tatis turned and pointed in their direction. They got even louder.

And so it went on Saturday night in the East Village. The Padres expected nights like this one to be a bit more frequent this season. They also have four months to set that right.