Darvish survives rough start as Rangers rally

April 10, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas — More than 42,000 Texas Rangers
fans were on their feet as Yu Darvish took the mound for the first time in a
major league game. It didn't take them long to lose their stamina.

Darvish walked Seattle Mariners leadoff hitter Chone Figgins on four pitches,
and things grew worse from there. If there was a worst-case scenario than what
occurred in the top of the first inning, nothing immediately came to mind. The
most expensive Japanese pitching import of all time labored through a 42-pitch,
10-batter first inning that produced four runs for one of the weakest-hitting
lineups in the American League. Mariners ace Felix Hernandez had to be the most
jealous man at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

That Darvish somehow survived 5 2/3 innings and won the game is a testament to his
competitiveness and perhaps the most dangerous hitting lineup in baseball. The
Rangers (3-1) won 11-5 on a night that could've gone so much worse.

"There isn't anyone in this room who could've told me he would still be in
there in the sixth [inning]," said manager Ron Washington, who was dead set
on allowing Darvish to pitch his way out of an excruciating first-inning jam.

Darvish won't have any trouble picking up the English language if he keeps
hosting this many trips to the mound. In the first inning alone, he received
visits from second baseman Ian Kinsler, shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher Mike
Napoli and pitching coach Mike Maddux. The Rangers had Scott Feldman up in the
bullpen by the time the Mariners took a 4-0 lead, but Darvish was able to coax
a groundout from Figgins to mercifully end the inning.

The thought of Darvish finishing even three innings seemed like a long shot at
that point, but his teammates threw him a life raft in the bottom of the first
with two runs off former Yankees pitcher Hector Noesi. Darvish gave up two
doubles and one more run in the second inning, which felt like major progress.

You know it's bad when a pitcher's turning around and apologizing to infielders
– during an inning (seriously). Darvish pitched out of a jam in the third
inning to keep the Rangers within shouting distance, and then right fielder
Nelson Cruz hit a two-out, three-run homer to left field to tie the score. Even
though Darvish went to three-ball counts on the first two hitters in the
fourth, he retired the Mariners in order.

He suddenly had a foothold in a game that could've easily gotten away from him.
While the Rangers kept adding runs, Darvish retired 10 consecutive Mariners.
Washington allowed him to go out for the sixth inning even though he'd already
thrown 98 pitches.

He quickly retired No. 9 hitter Brendan Ryan and Figgins, but a walk to Dustin
Ackley and a sharp single from Ichiro Suzuki caused Washington to remove Darvish
in favor of Alexi Ogando. Rangers fans serenaded Darvish with a thunderous
"Yuuuuuuu!" chant as he walked toward the dugout. Designated hitter
Michael Young met him on the top step and then he was congratulated by the rest
of his teammates and coaches. Darvish was visiting with his interpreter Joe
Furukawa when Washington interrupted them.

"I was just telling him how proud I was of him and the way he stood out
there and battled," Washington said.

It wasn't exactly a thing of beauty, but it could've been so much worse. Darvish
didn't have any command of his fastball in the early innings, as evidenced by Napoli
making a couple of kick saves. The catcher noticed that Darvish's sinker and
cutter were working pretty well, so he steered him in that direction. The pitcher
wasn't pleased with his effort at all, but his sense of humor was intact
following the game.

"Right now, the only thing I'm thinking is there were so many one-hoppers
and I'm sure his body's all bruised up," Darvish said of Napoli.
"More than anything, I just worry about his health."

Napoli arrived to the postgame news conference wearing a T-shirt that said,
"Yu is my homeboy" on the front. You got the sense Monday evening
that Darvish's teammates were ready to make up any deficit to help their new teammate.

With the bases loaded and one out in the first inning, Seattle third baseman
Kyle Seager slashed a single into right-center field. Maddux bounded out of the
dugout and was waiting for Darvish when he returned from backing up home plate.
It was obvious by then Darvish didn't have command of his fastball and the
Rangers were doing everything possible to calm him down.

"Today, when I stepped on the mound for the first time, I was very calm,
mentally was very calm," said Darvish through an interpreter. "But my
body felt like it wanted to go and go and go. At the beginning of the game, my
mind and body weren't on the same page."

Darvish gave up five earned runs on eight hits, four walks, five strikeouts, a
wild pitch and hit batter. Still, Rangers fans gave him a standing ovation
after Washington pulled him in the sixth inning. He said he didn't realize he
was supposed to tip his cap to the fans, but it's more likely he didn't feel
like he deserved to perform that time-honored act. In fact, his fellow
countryman Ichiro Suzuki (3-for-5) told reporters that he was impressed by
Darvish's decision not acknowledge the fans.

"His first outing was a new experience," said Rangers center fielder
Josh Hamilton, whose 406-foot solo homer to center field gave the Rangers an
8-5 lead in the fourth inning. "But he will [tip his hat] from now

All in all, it wasn't the worst way to start a career in America. It just
looked that way for an inning.