Everybody hereabouts had ample reason to believe Texas import Yu Darvish can be a handful. He is the guy, after all, who almost single-handedly helped turn Trey Hillman into such a managerial success in Japan that he got hired by the Royals.
That’s the Darvish the Royals saw through much of Monday afternoon in an 8-4 loss to the Rangers at Kauffman Stadium. Darvish retired the first 17 hitters before the Royals stirred to life and made things interesting in the late innings.
“I don’t know how many pitches he had,” designated hitter Billy Butler said, “but he was throwing them all for strikes. That’s not the guy who has as many walks as he has on the season. He was pounding the strike zone and definitely executing every single pitch.”
First, the Rangers rolled to a 6-0 lead behind a four-homer barrage against Royals starter Bruce Chen, who was coming off eight shutout innings against Detroit in his previous start.
“I felt I was pounding the strike zone,” he said, “but I felt I could have kept some of those pitches down. They took advantage. They’re a very good offensive club. They’ve got some pop.”
Geovany Soto opened the scoring with a three-run drive in the second inning. Texas got a moonshot drive from Josh Hamilton in the third and homers on successive pitches in the sixth from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.
“Against this club,” manager Ned Yost said, “you get a pitch up, they don’t miss it or foul it back. They hit it a long way.”
By then, the focus turned solely to Darvish in his bid to join Rangers president Nolan Ryan, then with the Angels, as the only opponents to pitch no-hitters since Kauffman Stadium opened in 1973.
And, actually, Darvish didn’t come close.
Johnny Giavotella ended the perfect game by drawing a two-out walk in the sixth on a full-count slider that just dipped outside. Darvish’s body language betrayed his frustration.
“At that moment,” he admitted through a translator, “I wanted the call, but later after the inning, I went back and saw a replay and saw that it was barely a ball. It just goes to show that the umpires are right, and the hitter had a very good at-bat.”
David Lough followed with a bloop single into center that ended the no-hitter.
“I didn’t know it was down off the bat,” he said. “I saw (shortstop Elvis) Andrus go back for it, and it was kind of tailing a little bit. I kind of inside-outed it and got it off the end. It had some spin on it. I’m lucky it got down.”
Darvish then lost his shutout when Cruz, apparently blinded by the glaring sun, misplayed Tony Abreu’s line drive to right into a two-run triple.
Alex Gordon’s sinking slice to left turned into an RBI double and trimmed the lead to 6-3. The inning finally ended when left fielder David Murphy ran down Billy Butler’s deep drive.
“That could have been another run for us,” Butler said, “but they kept firing. They’ve got a big-time offense, and they showed it.”
Darvish, 14-9, returned for a one-two-three seventh before handing a three-run lead to reliever Mike Adams. Darvish’s final line showed three runs and three hits over seven innings with one walk and six strikeouts.
“Today I really felt good,” Darvish said. “My command was very good, and I was really happy with my cutter.”
The Royals couldn’t have been more impressed.
Yost turned to bench coach Chino Cadahia in the third inning and voiced the possibility that Darvish had “a shot at a no-hitter today.” Third baseman Mike Moustakas said, “The guy threw the ball perfect for six innings.”
Even so, the Royals threatened a comeback by jumping on Adams for singles by Brayan Peña and Giavotella to start the eighth. That got the tying run to the plate, but first baseman Mitch Moreland turned Lough’s sharp grounder into a double play.
Abreu closed the gap to 6-4 with an RBI single to right but, inexplicably, broke late for second on Cruz’s throw to the infield. Adams cut the throw, and Abreu was an easy out at second. Inning over.
The ninth offered up a dramatic epilogue to keep in mind as the four-game series continues. Louis Coleman started the inning by hitting Cruz with a first-pitch fastball – apparently for the sin of taking too long to admire his homer in the sixth.
When Cruz took a step toward the mound, the benches and bullpens cleared.
Nothing happened, though, until Coleman delivered his next pitch, which Michael Young drove over the left-field wall for a two-run homer. So, the Rangers won that exchange, too.
Joe Nathan closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation.
Chen, 10-11, gave up six runs and six hits in six innings.
Ryan’s no-hitter came on May 15, 1973 – the year the stadium opened. He struck out 12 and walked three. It was the first of his record seven no-hitters.
The 17 straight hitters set down by Darvish were the most by a Rangers pitcher to start a game since Kenny Rogers retired the first 21 Indians on Aug. 9, 2002 at Cleveland. Darvish retired 24 straight hitters over two games before Giavotella’s walk.
“It was as good as I’ve seen his stuff,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “His curveball, they couldn’t do anything with it. Early in the game, his cutter was outstanding. His four-seamer, it was zipping. He was hitting his spots with consistency.
“He was doing everything he wanted to do out there.”