Rangers ace Yu Darvish once again flirted with a perfect game on Friday against the Red Sox and once again fell one out short of history. The right-hander has a penchant for doing this, even tossing five perfect innings against the Astros in his second start to open this season before a lead-off single in the sixth dashed his hopes.
A brief look at the list of pitchers to have thrown no-hitters will leave you unimpressed. Henderson Alvarez was the most recent to accomplish the feat on the last game of the 2013 regular season. Kevin Millwood — he of the career 4.11 ERA — was involved in two no-hitters: one by himself in April 2003 with the Phillies, and a tandem effort with the Mariners’ bullpen in June 2012. Phil Humber and Dallas Braden each threw a perfect game. Edwin Jackson and Matt Garza threw no-hitters in 2010.
Statistically speaking, the odds of anyone throwing a no-hitter over the course of the season are greater than you’d think. The odds of a Humber-type throwing one are smaller than that of Darvish, but practically speaking, they are indistinguishable. Anyone can get lucky on one night. Remember Mark Whiten’s four-homer game? It takes real skill to routinely flirt with history as Darvish does seemingly every month.
In Friday night’s start against the Red Sox, Darvish allowed the one hit, walked two, and struck out 12 in 8 2/3 innings of work. The 27-year-old has started only 68 games in the Major Leagues and has recorded double-digit strikeouts in 20 of them. On average, Darvish has struck out 10 or more batters once every three or four starts. He has allowed exactly one hit in four starts now. Clayton Kershaw, the consensus best pitcher in baseball right now, has done it four times in 184 starts. The lefty has recorded double-digit strikeouts in 22 of his 184 starts, or about once every eight starts.
Darvish is in his third full season in the big leagues, but if you don’t already, it’s time to start thinking of Darvish in the upper echelon of pitchers — with Kershaw, with Jose Fernandez, with Felix Hernandez, with Zack Greinke. The guy has been trying his damndest to convince you with a no-hitter, but the baseball gods won’t allow him. Give the guy a hand.
Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.
Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.
Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.
It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.
After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.
The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.
Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.
The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.
Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.
Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.
After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.
According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.
The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.