No no-hitter, but Yu Darvish continued to dominate on Friday

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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.

Astros advance to the World Series with 4-0 finale against Yankees

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The Astros punched their ticket to the World Series on Saturday, shutting out the Yankees 4-0 to take their first Game 7 victory at home. Charlie Morton was nearly untouchable on the mound, holding the Yankees to two hits, a walk and five strikeouts en route to his first career postseason win.

Morton and Sabathia carried their duel through three solid innings. Morton struck out three batters and allowed just one baserunner. Sabathia worked in and out of jams in the second and third innings, supplying and stranding two runners in scoring position.

Evan Gattis was the first to strike. In the fourth inning, he punched a 2-2 slider from Sabathia into the left field wall, where it registered a projected 405 feet and broke a homer-less streak of 115 at-bats by designated hitters in the 2017 postseason. The home run signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankees’ starter. He induced a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez, then walked Brian McCann on six pitches and allowed Josh Reddick his first base hit of the playoffs. That was enough for Joe Girardi, who pulled Sabathia for righty Tommy Kahnle and an inning-ending double play to close out the fourth.

Even with Sabathia gone, there was still some hope that the middle of the order could bail the Yankees out. Greg Bird led off the fifth with a first pitch double and Aaron Hicks took a four-pitch walk. A wild pitch from Morton allowed Bird to reach third base, but Alex Bregman and Brian McCann weren’t about to let the Yankees spoil their starter’s shutout. Todd Frazier bounced a ball toward third base, where Bregman grabbed and fired it to home plate, catching Bird just as McCann put his glove down.

The bottom of the inning wasn’t any easier for Sabathia’s successors. Jose Altuve went oppo-taco on a 1-1 changeup from Kahnle, postmarking it 364 feet into the right field stands. Kahnle labored through the next four at-bats, handing out a pair of singles to Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel before sending Gattis down swinging. The next at-bat was even more troublesome. McCann roped a two-out, two-RBI double to the warning track in right field, clearing the bases and boosting the Astros’ to a cushy 4-0 lead.

The excitement fizzled a little over the next few innings. Brett Gardner muscled a leadoff single off of Lance McCullers, but was later caught at second on a force play to end the sixth. McCullers didn’t let go of the ball again. He was lights-out through the end of the game, scattering a walk and six strikeouts over four innings and clinching the pennant with a 1-2-3 performance in the ninth.

Whatever confidence the Astros had coming off of their three-game sweep in the Division Series was tested and tested again in their pennant run. They battled through three tough losses in Games 3 through 5, staved off elimination with a gem from Justin Verlander in Game 6, and finally emerged victorious tonight. Three days from now, when they enter Dodger Stadium for Game 1 of the World Series, they’ll have the chance to do it all again.