Back on April 2, Yu Darvish made a run at a perfect game against the Astros, coming within one out of finishing the job before surrendering a base hit to Marwin Gonzalez. Facing the Astros again on Monday afternoon, Darvish made another bid for perfection, but this time it was an umpire who derailed him.
Darvish retired the first 17 hitters he faced and was one strike away from completing a perfect sixth inning against number nine hitter Jonathan Villar when home plate umpire Ron Kulpa called a borderline pitch -- an 80 mph slider, according to MLB Gameday -- ball two instead of strike three. Here's the GIF via Deadspin:
When Darvish then walked Villar on the 3-2 pitch, Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski voiced his displeasure to Kulpa; for his trouble, he was tossed from the game. (You can see a GIF of their exchange at SB Nation or video via that previous Deadspin link.) Whether or not Kulpa was right, the umpire had a ridiculously short fuse given the context of the situation. Robot umps now, please.
Darvish survived the walk and the ejection of Pierzynski (who was replaced by Geovany Soto) by striking out Robbie Grossman on a foul tip. He kept his bid for a no-hitter intact until there was one out in the eighth inning, when he served up a solo homer to Carlos Corporan on a 93 mph cut fastball, trimming the score to 2-1. Darvish finished the inning by striking out Brandon Barnes and inducing Jake Elmore to fly out. With his pitch count at 115, he yielded to Joe Nathan, who closed things out with a spotless ninth inning.
The strikeout of Barnes was notable in that it was Darvish's 15th of the game, setting a new stateside high for the 26-year-old righty. (Click here to see a GIF of all 15 Ks that a Rangers fan put together.) He had struck out 14 four times this year, including that April 2 start, and had reached double digits eight other times, two more than any other player. Here's the updated leaderboard:
With the 15 strikeouts, Darvish pushed his major league-leading total to 207, and his MLB-leading rate to 12.2 per nine. The Mets' Matt Harvey and the Mariners' Felix Hernandez are tied for second with 178 strikeouts, with the former having the second-best rate at 10.0 per nine.
One of these days, Darvish is going to get that elusive no-hitter. For what it's worth, the Rangers have six more games against the Astros, whose combined batting average of .235 is the AL's worst, though all of those games are in Arlington instead of Houston, the site of Darvish's two gems. If Darvish were to work every fifth game from now to the end of the season regardless of the schedule's off days, he'd actually miss the Astros both times, but he'd nonetheless face a stretch of low-average teams, starting with Seattle (.244) on Sunday, Aug. 18, followed by the White Sox (.247) on Aug. 24, the Twins (.241) on Aug. 30, the A's (.245) on Sept. 4 and the Pirates (.245) on Sept. 10. From there it would get much tougher, as he'd face the Rays (.261) on Sept. 16, the Royals (.260) on Sept. 21 and the Angels (.265) on Sept. 26.
All of this could change if manager Ron Washington rejiggers his rotation to line Darvish up for the last game of the regular season (Sept. 29) instead of the wild-card game (Oct. 1) or the start of the Division Series, But for now it underscores the simple fact that his every start is a must-see.