WASHINGTON (AP) – After getting pummeled by Washington in two straight games, the Texas Rangers were eager to stop the Nationals’ seemingly interminable parade around the bases.
Yu Darvish gave the Rangers just what they needed to avert a humbling sweep.
Darvish struck out 12 over eight innings, Leonys Martin broke open a scoreless duel with a homer in the seventh and Texas secured a 2-0 victory Sunday.
The Rangers won despite losing an apparent run in a rare double challenge on the same play. Managers Ron Washington of Texas and Matt Williams lodged separate complaints after a double steal in the first inning.
Pitching for the first time since May 22 after missing his last turn with a stiff neck, Darvish (5-2) gave up five hits and walked two in dropping his ERA to 2.08. The right-hander matched his season high in strikeouts and overpowered a club that won 9-2 on Friday and 10-2 Saturday.
“That team for two days just swung the bats at will, threw the ball around the ballpark, out of the ballpark,” Washington said. “We certainly needed to try to slow them down, and (Darvish) did that. He slowed them down. Yu was good today. He was very good. When the team needed him to be very good, he was.”
Joakim Soria worked a perfect ninth to earn his 11th save and seal Texas’ major league-leading 11th shutout.
Darvish struck out the side in the second and fanned two in each of the next three innings before encountering trouble in the sixth. One-out singles by Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche put runners at first and third before Darvish struck out Wilson Ramos and retired Ian Desmond on a deep fly to right field.
Darvish yielded a two-out walk in the seventh and left after a 1-2-3 eighth.
“We just needed Yu to pitch well,” Washington said, “and he pitched well.”
Darvish was worried that neck stiffness might be a problem, but it obviously didn’t turn out to be an issue.
“Last night before I went to bed, I was very scared to wake up with a neck injury so I probably woke up 20 times,” he said through a translator. “But I didn’t have any pain when I woke up this morning.”
Darvish got the only run he needed when Martin hit an 0-1 pitch from Tanner Roark (3-4) into the Washington bullpen beyond the right-field wall. It was his third home run in 183 at-bats this season and ended the Rangers’ run of homerless games at six.
Roark allowed only one run and seven hits in seven innings but lost his third straight start.
“He made one mistake to Martin, a changeup that was up in the strike zone,” Williams said. “Other than that, he matched him perfectly.”
Roark has lost three straight starts but owns a 3.25 ERA and has allowed only eight earned runs over his last 32 2-3 innings. In this one, he kept the Rangers at bay until Martin connected.
“It was just a bad changeup. It was up and I didn’t throw it with conviction,” Roark said. “That’s how it’s been the past couple games, just one pitch.”
Donnie Murphy added an RBI single off Drew Storen in the eighth. Murphy had a season-high three hits and was flawless in his first career game at first base.
“He’s a pro,” Washington said of Murphy. “Every time he goes out there he does something for us.”
In the first inning, both managers talked to the umpires. With two outs and runners on the corners, Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios executed a double steal. Rios was called out for coming off second base after the steal, but umpires ruled Andrus crossed the plate before the tag.
The Texas manager challenged the call at second and Williams insisted the out occurred before Andrus crossed the plate. After replays were reviewed over a span of 2 minutes, 45 seconds, Texas lost its challenge and the Nationals’ assertion was confirmed.
“I might have reacted too soon,” Washington acknowledged. “I should have waited until the first inning was over and I would have had my challenge. I was just trying to protect myself.”
In the bottom half, Ramos looked at a third strike with two outs and runners at first and third. It was the first of five straight strikeouts for Darvish.
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