With every swing and miss, this looked as if it might be the day Yu Darvish pitched a no-hitter against the overmatched Houston Astros.
And then with one out in the eighth inning, Carlos Corporan ended Darvish’s latest bid with a home run.
Darvish once again neared perfection versus Houston, striking out a career-high 15 and permitting only one hit in eight innings as the Texas Rangers won 2-1 Monday for their season-high eighth straight victory.
"A win’s a win," Darvish said through a translator. "I’m just glad I was a big part of this win."
Texas won for the 13th time in 14 games and headed home atop the AL West.
In early April, Darvish (12-5) was one out away from a perfect game at Minute Maid Park before Marwin Gonzalez singled between his legs. Darvish joined Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers in team history to have more than one start of at least eight innings with one hit or less.
Darvish became the first pitcher to have two no-hitters broken up in the eighth inning or later since it happened to Justin Verlander in 2011.
Outfielder Alex Rios chased Corporan’s drive to the wall, but had to watch as it sailed about five rows into the stands. Darvish simply looked around, and then wiped his brow with his arm before preparing to throw his next pitch.
"Well, I’d like to see it happen of course," manager Ron Washington said. "But those are professional hitters over there, too, and Corporan caught one."
Until the homer, Houston’s lone runner came when rookie Jonathan Villar drew a two-out walk on a full count in the sixth. Texas catcher A.J. Pierzynski was ejected for arguing with plate umpire Ron Kulpa over a breaking pitch he called low for ball four.
"Was it a strike? I don’t know," Pierzynski said. "Obviously I thought it was and Ron didn’t, and I was upset we walked the guy and I said a bad word and I was ejected."
Darvish was perplexed by the actions of his catcher.
"When he got ejected, I thought, `What is he doing?" Darvish said with a laugh.
The two-time All-Star ace from Japan was sharp all game, retiring the last two batters in eighth and exiting after increasing his major league-leading strikeout total to 207.
"He used everything today: slider, curveball, cutter, fastball," Washington said. "He moved it around, kept them off-balance. When they were looking for breaking balls he was throwing fastballs and cutters and when they were looking for cutters he was throwing breaking balls."
"I was pretty locked in," he said.
Darvish struck out 14 in four prior games this year, including his earlier gem at Houston. His 15 strikeouts on Monday matched his career-high from his professional career in Japan.
He is 3-0 with a 1.52 ERA and 37 strikeouts in three starts in Houston this season, and is 4-1 with a 1.31 ERA and 50 strikeouts in five starts since returning from the disabled list.
Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for his 35th save.
The AL West-leading Rangers took a quick lead over the last-place Astros. With two outs in the first, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre doubled and Pierzynski hit an RBI single off Brett Oberholtzer (2-1).
Oberholtzer yielded seven hits and two runs with six strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings for his first loss in three major league starts.
The Houston hitters had no such luck with Darvish.
Darvish was strong from the start relying mostly on a four-seam fastball, sliders and a cutter against the Astros’ inexperienced lineup.
"He doesn’t just have control. This guy has command," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "He can throw every pitch the way he wants to throw it, even out of the strike zone. Which, when you have that kind of repertoire, you’re going to be up against it."
He struck out the side in the first inning before getting two fly outs and a ground out in the second.
The 26-year-old righty fanned two each in the third and fourth innings, struck out the side in the fifth and the first batter of the sixth inning. His strikeout of Chris Carter to start the fifth was his 200th of the season, giving him a team record for fewest games (23) needed to reach the mark.
In the sixth, Darvish started walking off the mound after his close pitch to Villar. Pierzynski also began heading to the dugout, but Kulpa said it missed.
Pierzynski didn’t like the call, started yelling in Kulpa’s face and was quickly tossed. Geovany Soto took at catcher and Darvish walked Villar on a full count.
Darvish, a two-time MVP in Japan, flirted with perfection last Sept. 3, too, retiring the first 17 batters at Kansas City.
NOTES:Injured Texas DH Lance Berkman is getting Monday off and will DH for Double-A Frisco on Tuesday and Wednesday and will be re-evaluate him after that. … Neftali Feliz, who was expected to throw Saturday for Round Rock but did not pitch as a precaution because of mild right arm triceps tendinitis, has been shut down. Feliz has been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last year. … Darvish set rookie franchise records for wins (16) and strikeouts (221) last season. He finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Mike Trout and Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.