BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Texas beat the Yankees 2-0 Tuesday night in Arlington in front of a sellout crowd of 47,086. It was a night that Ranger fans saw first hand what all the fuss with Yu Darvish was about. He was absolutely astounding, pitching into the ninth inning before handing the ball over to closer Joe Nathan for a one pitch save, his fifth of the season. The win evened this series at a game apiece and improved the Rangers’ record to 14-4, the best in baseball.
The story on this night though was Darvish, now 3-0 in four starts. His ERA is down to 2.42, ninth in the American League. His performance Tuesday was simply the best start of the season for any Ranger hurler. He departed having thrown 119 pitches, 82 (69%) of which were strikes. He threw less than 60% of his pitches for strikes in his previous three starts. He threw a strike on the first pitch to 21 of the 33 batters he faced. His pitches had unbelievable movement, and he displayed his tremendous assortment. The big difference Tuesday night though was pitch location.
After the game, Darvish told a local television audience, “Stuff wise, there is not much difference, but my command is getting better.” On Tuesday night, he threw exclusively from the stretch, as he did in most of his starts last year in Japan. The Rangers have worked on his windup throughout spring traiining and into the regular season. However, there has been little consistency in the windup, and there has been little consistency in throwing strikes. Scrapping the windup and improving his command are undoubtedly related.
For the record, Darvish gave up seven hits, walked two and struck out 10. The Yankees had at least one baserunner in eight innings. The most dramatic moment for Darvish came in the third inning, when New York loaded the bases with the first three batters. Darvish proceded to strike out Curtis Granderson – called on a back door breaking pitch – and coerce a double play ground ball from Alex Rodriguez to escape without any scoreboard damage.
His shutout performance is even more remarkable when the competition is considered. The Yankees have one of the most high powered offenses in baseball. Even after getting shut down Tuesday night, the Yankees are third among all 30 major league teams with a .281 batting average, second in runs scored with 97, and tied for first with 28 home runs. (The Rangers also have 28 round trippers.)
The Yankees Hiroki Kuroda (1-3) almost matched Darvish’s performance. The all-Japanese pitching matchup was televised in Japan, and Kuroda was terrific. Ian Kinsler homered leading off the bottom of the first. The Rangers were able to cash in a two out walk in the third to Elvis Andrus into a second run. Andrus stole second and scored on Josh Hamilton’s single. It was Hamilton’s 19th RBI of the year, second in the American League to New York’s Nick Swisher (21). That was it for the Rangers’ offense, as Kuroda departed with two outs in the seventh having allowed five hits, with a pair of walks and five strikeouts.
Scott Feldman faces Phil Huges in Wednesday’s rubber match of the series.
* Adrian Beltre returned to the Rangers’ lineup after missing three games with a strained hamstring. He batted fourth and was 0-3 with a strikeout. He started the third inning double play that rescued Darvish from his bases loaded no out jam. The Rangers lost two of three games in Beltre’s absence.
*. Elvis Andrus led the Rangers with 26 errors in 2011, about 20% of all the errors the team committed. Both Andrus’s and the Rangers’ error totals last year were atrocious. So far this year, Andrus has not made an error, and going back to last season, he has a 50 game errorless streak. After 18 games, the Rangers have committed just seven errors, second fewest to three teams with six, and rank fourth among all 30 major league teams in fielding percentage. This is a pace to commit 63 errors over the entire season, and represents a significant improvement, as every edition of the Rangers under manager Ron Washington has committed more than 100 errors for the season, and none of those teams has finished higher than 12th in the American League in fielding percentage.