Yu Darvish not quite perfect, but plenty close enough

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It looked like destiny was on his side when Yu Darvish made such quick work of Jason Castro and Carlos Corporan to start the ninth inning Tuesday against Astros. Seconds later, destiny rolled right between his legs into center field.

In the end, the pitch count may have gotten to Darvish. Not that he seemed stressed at all, but everyone else was, since he wasn’t slated to throw more than 90-100 pitches tonight after taking it relatively easy in spring training. Having skipped the WBC, his high pitch total in March was 73. The two-out single Marwin Gonzalez hit off him in the bottom of the ninth tonight came on his 111th and final pitch. The Rangers removed him immediately, and Michael Kirkman went on to finish off the 7-0 victory.

Knowing that the Rangers wanted a quick inning — actually, they really didn’t want to send him back out for the ninth at all — Darvish attacked the plate and got two quick groundouts. Gonzalez, too, swung at the first pitch, knocking it right back through the box past Darvish and shortstop Elvis Andrus.

Whille Darvish didn’t get his perfect game, it was a marvelous effort. He fanned 14 of the first 23 hitters he faced, before he seemed to stop going for the K. Prior to Gonzalez’s single, Chris Carter’s drive to the wall in the fifth was the only occasion on which the Astros came close to a hit .

If anything takes away from the outing, it’s that it did come against the American League’s worst offense. The Astros are going to be prone to games like this. Jose Altuve is the only high-average hitter in the entire lineup, and one imagines other pitchers will pull off impressive feats against the team this year, whether it’s a no-hitter or an 18-strikeout game.

Darvish, though, would have done much the same against any lineup tonight. Maybe not a no-hitter, but eight scoreless innings anyway. Darvish’s command can waver, but his varied arsenal and moving fastball make him about as tough to hit as any AL starter. If, with a year in the majors under his belt, he’s completed the adjustment to pitching every five or six days, as opposed to once a week in Japan, he’s a threat for AL Cy Young honors. He already finds himself with a nice head start.

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Aaron Judge set a new postseason strikeout record

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For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:

The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).

It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: