For the second time in his career, Yu Darvish came within one out of a no-hitter. And for the second time in his career, Yu Darvish walked off the mound dejected, denied a chance at the history books.
After throwing a perfect game through 6 2/3 innings and no-hitting the Red Sox through 8 2/3, Darvish, who came within one out of a perfect game in April 2013, gave up a single to David Ortiz with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, losing his opportunity at the first no-hitter of 2014 and his career. Darvish, who threw 126 pitches, struck out 12 and walked two, also lost the chance to pick up the first shutout and complete game of his career, but did get the win in Texas' 8-0 victory.
Darvish started the ninth by getting Dustin Pedroia to ground out to third base and striking out Shane Victorino swinging. With Ortiz up, Darvish dropped a fastball on the outside corner for strike one, then missed with his next two pitches. With the count at 2-1, Darvish fired a fastball inside that Ortiz pulled to the right of second base, but with the shift on, the ball got by shortstop Elvis Andrus and the diving effort of rookie second baseman Rougned Odor going back to his right on the outfield grass for a clean single. With Darvish's pitch count elevated and the Rangers comfortably in front, Ron Washington replaced his ace with Alexei Ogando, who got Mike Napoli to fly out to leftfield to end the game.
As close as Darvish came, his no-hit bid was under the microscope after a controversial ruling in the seventh inning. With two outs and the shift on, Ortiz lifted a harmless flyball into shallow rightfield. Odor — making his first major-league start — drifted into the outfield and camped under the ball, in position to make the easy catch. But at the last second, Odor backed off, then lunged toward the ball, only to watch it plunk down between him and rightfielder Alex Rios.
After a lengthy interval, the scorer at Globe Life Park ruled Ortiz's ball an error — not on Odor, but on Rios. Watching the replay, it's unclear if Rios called off Odor at the last second or if Odor simply thought Rios was going to take over the play. According to the Boston Globe's Pete Abraham, the scorer said he awarded the error to Rios for calling for the ball. Regardless, the ball dropped without either player getting a glove on it, a play that the scorer almost always rules a hit. However, according to the relevant section of the MLB rulebook, a ball doesn't have to be touched for it be ruled an error on the fielder's part. As it's stated in section 10.12(a)(1):
It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error. If a ground ball goes through a fielder's legs or a fly ball falls untouched and, in the scorer's judgment, the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, the official scorer shall charge such fielder with an error. For example ... the official scorer shall charge an outfielder with an error if such outfielder allows a fly ball to drop to the ground if, in the official scorers judgment, an outfielder at that position making ordinary effort would have caught such fly ball.
10.12(a)(1) also notes that, "The official scorer shall not score mental mistakes or misjudgments as errors unless a specific rule prescribes otherwise." By that language, the scorer in Texas was in the right to charge Rios with the error. But it's a play that, throughout baseball, is routinely and repeatedly ruled a hit. (This Deadspin post on the ruling has some great examples of similar plays that were ruled hits.)
Darvish, apparently rattled by the miscue, proceeded to walk Napoli on seven pitches. The sixth pitch in particular — a slider that just missed on the outside corner — had Darvish giving the evil eye to home plate umpire Greg Gibson. But Darvish bounced back by getting Grady Sizemore to fly out to rightfield, preserving the no-hitter through seven innings.
After the game, Red Sox manager John Farrell addressed the error ruling, telling reporters, "10 out of 10 times, that's a hit." When asked in his postgame press conference what he thought, Washington tersely responded, "My take is that it should have been caught." The true hyperbole came from MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, who deemed the error call "the worst ruling in Major League Baseball history," suggesting that Reynolds has all the functional memory of a goldfish.
Putting aside the controversy and yet another brush with history, Darvish was masterful on Friday night. His 12 strikeouts were a season-high (his career-high is 15, set back on Aug. 12, 2013 against the Astros) and the 21st time in his career he's recorded double-digit strikeouts. Darvish struck out the side in the third, got six straight strikeouts between the second and fourth innings, and failed to record a strikeout in only one inning, the seventh. Eighty-two of Darvish's 126 pitches went for strikes, with swings-and-misses on 18 of them. His slider was a weapon of havoc; of the 25 he threw, 11 drew swings-and-misses, and he got seven strikeouts alone on the pitch, six swinging. Darvish also brought some serious heat against the Red Sox, sitting at 94.7 mph with his two-seam fastball and 94.5 with his four-seamer, and hitting a high of 98.2 on the night. His whole arsenal was in play: Two-seamer, four-seamer, slider, cutter (11) and one curveball and splitter a piece.
But for as good as Darvish was, it just wasn't enough, and that's become a frustratingly common theme for the Japanese right-hander in his young career. Friday's start marked the fourth time that Darvish had gone eight or more innings with just one hit allowed; along with the near-perfect game against the Astros in April 2013 (broken up on a single up the middle by Marwin Gonzalez), Darvish went 7 1/3 hitless innings against Houston in the Aug. 12 game when he struck out 15. That no-hit bid was broken up on a solo homer by Carlos Corporan; Darvish had lost the perfect game in the sixth inning on a two-out walk by Jonathan Villar. Darvish also gave up one hit in eight innings against (surprise, surprise) Houston in his first start of 2014, in which he went five perfect innings before giving up a single to Matt Dominguez.
Darvish isn't alone in his misery, however. According to ESPN Stats and Info, he's now the third pitcher in MLB history to lose a no-hitter in the ninth inning two times, joining the Senators' Bill Burns (1908 and '09) and Toronto's Dave Stieb (1988). Burns, who went by the sobriquet "Sleepy Bill" and later took part in the Black Sox betting scandal in the 1919 World Series, lost his no-hit bids to the Tigers and White Sox. Stieb's misses are even more heartbreaking; he lost his first no-hit bid in the ninth inning on May 24, 1988 against Cleveland, then took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in his very next start against Baltimore, only to lose it on the final batter of that game. Stieb was a true hard-luck pitcher, also losing a no-hitter in the ninth inning in an Aug. 24, 1985 start against the White Sox, then losing a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning on Aug. 4, 1989 against the Yankees. Stieb did eventually collect a no-hitter on Sept. 2, 1990 against Cleveland.
The no-hitter would have been the first in baseball since Miami's Henderson Alvarez blanked the Tigers on the last day of the 2013 regular season, and the first for an AL pitcher since Felix Hernandez accomplished the feat on Aug. 15, 2012 against Tampa Bay; Hernandez's was also the last perfect game thrown in baseball. Texas hasn't recorded a no-hitter since Kenny Rogers did it against the California Angels on July 28, 1994 in a 4-0 win; Rogers' was also a perfect game. Friday would have been the first time the Red Sox had been no-hit since April 22, 1993, when Chris Bosio of the Mariners held them hitless in a 2-0 win.
Despite missing out on the no-hitter, Friday's effort boosted Darvish's overall line to a 2.33 ERA in 46 1/3 innings; his 54 strikeouts give him a 10.49 strikeout-per-nine ratio. And though history has eluded him so far, with his ability, it feels like it's only a matter of time before Darvish walks off the mound with a perfect game or no-hitter to call his own.