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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Video: J.D. Martinez hits league-tying 23rd home run

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox and Mariners left nothing on the table Friday night, going head-to-head in a series opener that eventually ended 14-10 in the Sox’ favor. Led by Steven Wright and Wade LeBlanc — neither of whom made it past the fifth inning — the teams combined for 34 hits and four home runs, including two moonshots from Seattle’s Nelson Cruz and a five-run rally that gave Boston the edge in the seventh.

In the sixth inning, however, the Red Sox were still scrambling to make up a four-run deficit. Left fielder J.D. Martinez cut it in half with one swing, pouncing on an 89.5-mph fastball from Seattle right-hander Nick Vincent and posting it to dead center field for a two-run shot.

The 427-foot blast was Martinez’s 23rd of the season, tying Mike Trout for the most home runs in the league this year. While he still has a ways to go before eclipsing the career-best 45-HR mark he set in 2017, he’s off to a strong start this season: Entering Friday’s game, the 30-year-old slugger was batting .315/.386/.623 with a 1.009 OPS and AL-leading 55 RBI in 308 PA. He finished Friday’s game 4-for-5 with five RBI, just one triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Heading into the All-Star Break, both Martinez and Trout still have some competition for the home run title. Jose Ramirez is sitting at 22 homers, while Nelson Cruz and Khris Davis are tied at 20 apiece.