Set to face O's, Darvish no stranger to postseason
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hours before the Rangers' final game of the regular season, Yu Darvish was sitting on a couch in the visitors' clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum. Darvish was sitting next to Martin Perez with his bare feet up on a table and the two rookie pitchers were watching a video on a cellphone.
No telling what language it was. Darvish speaks Japanese, while Perez is from Venezuela and speaks Spanish. Both need a translator to speak to the media in English. But whatever they were watching on the phone, they both found it hysterically funny.
Once they were done, Darvish grabbed his stuff and went out to throw in the bullpen, his final session on the side before his first postseason start as a Major League pitcher. But as he and Perez walked out the clubhouse together with dark shades over their eyes, it looked like just another day for Darvish at the office with his buddies.
"What's impressed me the most about Yu is his adaptation to the Rangers and his personality," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He was able to get along with everybody and fit right in. In Spring Training, it was kind of the Yu Darvish Show as everybody knows. He was definitely the special guy. He does not want it to be that way. In time, he was able to whittle that pedestal away. He didn't want it. Now he's just one of the guys."
He is also the Rangers' No. 1 pitcher going into the playoffs. He will be on the mound on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. CT on TBS when the Rangers host the Orioles in the one-game Wild Card playoff game at the Ballpark in Arlington.
"Of course, I'm ready," Darvish said. "If I wasn't ready, I wouldn't be named to pitch that game. I'm just going to try to approach it like any other start and try to win."
Darvish, who did not face the Orioles during the regular season, goes into this start having pitched well for the last six weeks of the season. Darvish went 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA in his last eight starts, and part of that success comes from the demeanor he showed on Wednesday morning in Oakland. He has settled in comfortably into his new element and environment.
"He finally found Yu Darvish," manager Ron Washington said. "He was searching to find what he's capable of doing and he's found it. He's competing, relaxing, trusting and believing. That's what he was searching for and that's what he found. That's what he is when he's at his best. All pitchers are that way when they are at their best."
This is what the Rangers expected when they made the organization-wide decision to pursue Darvish in the offseason after extensively scouting him the past two years in Japan. Darvish was a superstar in Japan with a seven-year record of 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA for the Nippon Ham Fighters. Twice, he was named the Pacific League's Most Valuable Player.
The Rangers first won right to negotiate with Darvish by submitting a winning posting bid of $51.7 million. Then they signed him to a six-year, $56 million contract and waited to see if he could make the successful transition to the Major Leagues.
Darvish, who was 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 16 starts in the first half, ended up on the American League All-Star team when he won the Final Vote. But Washington said Darvish didn't really start to find himself until the final six weeks of the season.
"The guy was under tremendous pressure," Washington said. "He had to learn everything and make adjustments. It took him some time, but he found it."
Darvish ended up fifth in the league with 221 strikeouts and opponents hit .220 off him, the third lowest in the league.
"It's a testament to his stuff," Maddux said. "His breaking stuff is above average across the board. He has an above-average slider and an above-average curveball. He has an above-average split and an above-average changeup and enough of a fastball to keep everything fresh. He needs the ability to finish off hitters, and he knows how to finish off hitters. What he has shown so far as he's thrown some big games for us and some good games. I'd like to see him continue that."
This will be the biggest game Darvish has pitched for the Rangers. But he is hardly a stranger to postseason. He pitched in the playoffs for the Fighters in five of the past six seasons. In 11 games, he went 8-2 with a 1.38 ERA and five complete games. He was the winning pitcher in the final game of the 2006 Japan Series as the Fighters won their first title since 1961.
Darvish also helped Japan win both the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the 2007 Asian Baseball Championship. Now he is in the Major League postseason.
"I'm going to treat it like any other game," Darvish said.
"What it will take is Yu Darvish being Yu Darvish," Washington said. "When he is just that, he's a pretty good pitcher. He's pitched in big games before."