I spent too much of last night’s game thinking about the two moments, one on the bases in the bottom of the fifth and the other on defense in the top of the sixth, that led to this and this:
Over the last 16 hours, though, all I’m thinking about as far as Texas 5, Philadelphia 1 is this picture:
It comes from an image captured by the great Kelly Gavin of the Rangers, an instant after Number 11’s 95th and final pitch.
Which was his 70th strike.
And produced his 18th swing-and-miss.
And his ninth strikeout, on a night when he showed Philadelphia eight different pitch types.
Two innings and a 27th out later, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin — who scouted Yu Darvish for the Yankees several years before the righthander was posted, telling his bosses then: “You should inquire about this guy” — told reporters in Arlington’s visitors’ clubhouse that Darvish “just changed speeds, had a good fastball, located that slider . . . arguably the best slider in baseball,” and that his club’s blueprint for dealing with him Tuesday night was to “hope he hangs one and makes a mistake.”
Darvish gave up one run, courtesy of a seeing-eye single off the bat of Freddy Galvis — just the second hit Darvish allowed all year to 47 hitters who came up with runners in scoring position (.050/.149/.050) and the first to produce a run — who was the last batter he’d face before the one who was responsible for Kelly’s photo above.
Those 70 strikes were 73.7 percent of his pitches last night, the second-highest clip of his career next to the 74.1 percent (80 out of 108) he fired at the Yankees on July 28, 2014.
Darvish threw first-pitch strikes to 70 percent of the 27 Phillies he faced, and that’s one of two things that might help you understand why he was so dominant last night. Here’s the other.
Establishing and locating the fastball inside is a great thing. Living on the inner black not only ties hitters up but opens up the outer half, which you can see in that video compilation, and it’s the kind of thing that leads opposing managers to throw their hands up verbally after the game, and tip their cap.
Darvish issued just two walks and Alex Claudio and Matt Bush none, the eighth straight game in which the staff has walked three or fewer, and if you’re planning to win seven straight (particularly if the guy many would consider the team’s best player and the guy many would consider the team’s best pitcher are both sidelined), that right there is a good start.
“The feel of baseball is starting to really come back,” Jeff Banister told MLB Network Radio this morning on the subject of his ace. “A year from Tommy John, to have that feel is exceptional.”
ESPN’s Buster Olney, meanwhile, said: “Everything is going right for Yu Darvish. He’ll be the big dog in free agency this fall.”
That’s something I refuse to think about right now, as vigorously as I refuse to listen to anyone’s flagging effort to stand on a platform suggesting Darvish is anything less than a focused, tenacious, dialed-in beast.
Jonathan Lucroy has awakened, hitting .395/.439/.553 over his last 10 games, and Mike Napoli has awakened, hitting .281/.333/.688 (four home runs and 8 RBI) over his last nine games (compare: Edwin Encarnacion, on the Cleveland books for a guaranteed three years and $60 million, is hitting .198 with 12 RBI for the whole season), but Yu Darvish didn’t need their big games last night, at least statistically, to notch his fourth win of the season and his 50th as a Ranger (reaching that number in fewer starts than anyone in franchise history).
Thanks to Kelly Gavin, we know Number 11 looked like this after the final pitch he threw last night, helping lead Texas to its seventh straight win: