Yu Darvish's starts are always must-see TV, but anytime the Rangers' ace faces the Astros— quite often, now that they're in the same division — the Yu Darvish No-Hitter Watch officially goes into effect.
On Friday night, the 27-year-old righty retired the first 15 Astros he faced before yielding a single to Matt Dominguez, the third time he's held Houston hitless though at least five frames in two-plus seasons. It was the only hit he allowed in his eight innings, though the game remained scoreless until the Rangers finally pushed a run across in the bottom of the 12th inning for a 1-0 win.
Darvish came within one out of a perfect game against the Astros last April 2, a bid that was broken up by light-hitting Marwyn Gonzalez. Coming into Friday night had faced them a total of six times, allowing just 22 hits in 43 innings while striking out 63 (13.2 per nine), and holding their hitters to a a meager .149/.221/.284 line. In addition to striking out 14 in that near-miss, he set a career high with a 15-strikeout game against them on August 12; a sixth-inning walk to Jonathan Villar and an eighth-inning solo homer by Carlos Corporan were the only blemishes in that eight-inning outing.
Relying primarily on his four-seam fastball (average velocity 95.3 mph according to BroooksBaseball.net) and slider — which together accounted for 85 of his 101 pitches — Darvish established his dominance early on Friday evening. Though he fell behind five of the first six hitters he faced, he needed just 10 pitches to get through the first inning and 11 to get through the second. He fired a total of 30 pitches in the third and fourth, striking out five straight hitters — Robbie Grossman, Jonathan Villar, Dexter Fowler, Alex Presley and Jason Castro — in the process. He allowed only two balls hit out of the infield while the perfect game was in effect.
Darvish began the sixth inning having thrown just 61 pitches, and appeared poised to notch his eighth strikeout of the night when he got ahead of Dominguez 0-2 before leaving a slider in the heart of the strike zone. The 24-year-old third baseman, who came into the night just 4-for-31 on the year, hit a flare to centerfield to break up the no-hitter:
Darvish recovered to put down the next three hitters on just eight pitches, and the only other baserunner he allowed was Jose Altuve via a two-out walk in the seventh; that was the only time he even went to a three-ball count all night. Chris Carter nearly followed with the Astros' second hit, but Leonys Martin made an impressive diving catch on his line drive to centerfield.
For as dominant as Darvish was, the Rangers couldn't scratch out a run against opposite number (and former teammate) Scott Feldman, who yielded just two hits across seven innings, but walked four and hit batters on back-to-back pitches in the seventh. Feldman wriggled out of a jam in the second with runners on second and third and one out — set up by a one-out double by Mitch Moreland — by striking out J.P. Arencibia and getting Martin to ground out. After plunking Kevin Kouzmanoff and Moreland in the seventh, he intentionally walked Martin, then struck out Josh Wilson.
With Joakim Soria picking up for Darvish and Chad Qualls taking the baton from Feldman, the game remained scoreless into the bottom of the ninth, and the Rangers had a shot to win. With two outs, Martin and Wilson collected back-to-back singles against reliever Kevin Chapman, who then walked Shin-Soo Choo to load the bases. Anthony Bass came on in relief for Houston, and after falling behind Elvis Andrus 2-0, finally induced him to ground out to second base.
Texas loaded the bases again in the 10th inning against Brad Peacock. With nobody out, Alex Rios singled and stole second, then Prince Fielder was intentionally walked, and Kouzmanoff worked a walk as well. The Astros shifted to a five-man infield and forced Rios out at home on a Moreland grounder, then Peacock struck out Robinson Chirinos and got Martin to ground out.
The Rangers finally scored against Peacock in the 12th. Kouzmanoff singled, took second on a wild pitch, and after a strikeout of Moreland, scored on Chirinos' single past a diving Altuve. The win, which evened the Rangers' record on the season at 5-5, mirrored that of Darvish's previous start on Sunday against the Rays. Coming off the disabled list due to a neck problem that scratched him from his Opening Day assignment, he threw seven shutout innings over 89 pitches against the Rays but got zero support as well; the Rangers rallied for three runs over the final two innings to win that one. For as frustrated as they might be by their offense's repeated failure to score (3.9 per game thus far), they have to be reassured by Darvish showing his dominant form, and now riding a 15-inning scoreless streak to start the year.