ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – He was a foreigner. New to America. Awkward with English. And yet, even more uncomfortably, tabbed as the marketable star of a franchise.
It was his first pro start in the United States. Against Seattle. And also versus an aging countryman who for years he’d looked up to. Even idolized.
In 1999 it was Dallas Mavericks’ rookie Dirk Nowitzki, going 0-of-5 from the field in an ugly 2-point debut in a loss to German icon Detlef Schrempf and the Sonics.
In 2012 it is Texas Rangers’ rookie Yu Darvish, overcoming a shaky start to pitch 5.2 innings in a win over Japanese legend Ichiro Suzuki and the Mariners.
If only Darvish can duplicate the rest of Nowitzki’s MVP, championship-winning, Hall-of-Fame career, he’ll indeed be worth the Rangers’ $111 investment. But early on Monday night at Rangers Ballpark, he looked like this franchise’s biggest pitching bust since Chan Ho Park.
In perhaps the most anticipated debut in franchise history, Yu commenced by walking leadoff hitter Chone Figgins on four pitches. After 26 pitches pitching coach Mike Maddux was visiting on the mound and Scott Feldman was warming up in the bullpen. During a quick visit from 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler, Darvish actually apologized for his performance. After 38 pitches Darvish had recorded just one out.
Those “Yuuuuuuu!”s were about to deteriorate into “booooo!”s.
“When I stepped on the mound for the first time, I was very calm,” Darvish said through his interpreter after Texas’ offense hit four homers and bailed him out in an 11-5 win. “Mentally I was very calm but my body felt like it wanted to go and go and go. I think at the beginning of the game my mind and my body kind of weren’t on the same page.”
A historic 1st inning almost became an unprecedented pratfall. By the time he finally recorded the third out Darvish had thrown 42 pitches (22 strikes), uncorked a wild pitch, allowed four hits, issued three walks and put his team in a 4-0 hole.
“I thought he was probably pretty hyped up for the game, and didn’t have much feel,” said team president Nolan Ryan in assessing Yu’s debut. “But he battled and got better each inning so that was very encouraging. He looked like a totally different pitcher at the end than he did at the start. I think it was just a matter of him settling down and getting back into rhythm.”
Still not sure if Darvish has seven pitches. But after a memorable Monday in Arlington we are sure he’s already used up one of his nine lives.
After the epic fail of a beginning, Darvish settled down for three scoreless innings, retiring 10 consecutive Mariners at one point. Some experts predict he’ll win American League Rookie of the Year, even Cy Young. But early on none of us thought he’d last long enough to break a sweat, much less throw 110 pitches and somehow get a double-YU.
“There isn’t anyone in this room who could’ve told me he would still be in there in the sixth,” said manager Ron Washington.
Against one of baseball’s weakest-hitting lineups Darvish regained control and, well, control. Started throwing strike one. Began letting his fastball move instead of trying to force the motion.
Thanks to homers by Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland and Josh Hamilton and Kinsler and another catch by the chubby kid on Greene’s Hill (this one complete with “Water Sprinkler” dance), Yu’s unveiling was successful, if not spotty. It was a new experience for Yu to lose control, to get staggered and, mostly, to get rescued by his team’s bats. With the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese League, Darvish never received more than 8 runs of support from an offense that scored 2 or less in 14 of his 19 starts.
The night proved to Yu that he needn’t be perfect, just persistent. Mission accomplished. In two hours Darvish displayed more heart than the Mavericks’ Lamar Odom did in three months. In the first inning he allowed four runs on 42 pitches; the rest of the game just 1 run on 68.
“I told him how proud I was of him and the way he stood out there and battled,” Washington said.
For his performance Darvish joins Matt Harrison and Josh Rupe as the only Rangers to win their first starts in the last 11 years and Paul Mirabella (1978) as the only Ranger to allow 5+ runs in his debut and still get the win.
The Rangers won. The Rangers drew about 5,000 more fans on the first Monday of the season than last year’s correlating game. The Rangers will forgive their new pitcher for not knowing to acknowledge the fans’ standing ovation with a courtesy hat tip.
“His first outing was a new experience,” said Hamilton. “But he will (tip his hat) from now on.”
Best of all, after allowing five runs and four walks in his Major League Baseball debut Darvish didn’t lose his temper. Nor his faith. Or sense of humor. Or support. After a couple of stops of balls in the dirt and one diving stop of a wild pitch that caromed violently off the brick-wall backstop, catcher Mike Napoli went to the media interview room in a “Yu is My Homeboy” T-shirt.
Quipped Darvish, “Right now, the only thing I’m thinking is there were so many one-hoppers and I’m sure his body’s all bruised up. I just worry about his health.”
Might be the best thing to happen to Darvish. If nothing else, we know now that Yu can handle adversity.
With 16 points and 12 rebounds in his second start, Nowitzki got better.
So will Darvish.
(Copyright 2012 CBSDFW.com, CBS Local a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
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