By Jeff Wilson Fort Worth Star-Telegram
HOUSTON — Maybe he was being humble or maybe he was warning the rest of baseball of what’s ahead for him this season, but Yu Darvish said that he got lucky Tuesday night.
The rest of the baseball world likely thought that the right-hander was unlucky as he lost a perfect game with one out to go during an eventual 7-0 Texas Rangers victory at Minute Maid Park.
Light-hitting Houston shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, the Astros’ No. 9 hitter, spoiled what would have been the 24th perfect game in major-league history with a single through the middle on a cut fastball that stayed over the outside part of the plate.
Darvish was immediately removed from the game, finishing with one hit allowed and a career-high 14 strikeouts against an Astros lineup that was overmatched for 26 straight outs.
He smiled as Gonzalez’s grounder reached center field.
“I think my teammates were more disappointed than I was,” Darvish said. “Even if I did get the perfect game, a win is just a win. I think that I got lucky today. I think I pitched better last year against the Royals in Kansas City.”
Darvish retired the first 17 Royals hitters on Sept. 3 before surrendering a walk to break up the string. He lasted seven innings and gave up three runs on three hits at Kauffman Stadium.
The Astros, though, didn’t seem to have much of a chance Tuesday after the first inning. Though Darvish struck out the first two hitters, he went to a full count to leadoff hitter Jose Altuve and was behind Carlos Pena 3-1 before getting him to ground out.
Darvish, who threw 111 pitches and admitted to feeling fatigued late in the game, went to a 3-2 count four times. His toughest out was Chris Carter, who saw 21 pitches in three at-bats. Carter saw nine and fouled off three full-count pitches before striking out to start the eighth.
Jason Castro grounded to shortstop Elvis Andrus to start the ninth, and Carlos Corporan grounded to second on the next pitch. The next pitch was a 91 mph cutter. Gonzalez pumped his fist as he ran to first base.
“I’ve learned not to think that, ‘This is it,’” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “I was definitely thinking what the celebration would be like. If there’s one team that’s not going to an out for granted, it’s probably us.”
Darvish struck out all three batters in the second. By the time he struck out the side again in the fourth, he had nine strikeouts, and no balls had left the infield.
Carter started the fifth with a flyball to the wall in left field that Darvish thought was a home run, and Rick Ankiel followed with a soft liner that Mitch Moreland caught above his head as he went to his right.
Darvish matched his career-high in strikeouts with No. 11 to start the sixth. Moreland had to grab another soft liner for the next out, though that one from Corporan was right at him. Moreland also made an unassisted out to end the inning on a Gonzalez grounder.
But the Rangers were clinging to a 1-0 lead after six, a run courtesy of an RBI single by Lance Berkman in the third. But Kinsler gave Darvish a bigger cushion with a two-run homer after Craig Gentry had tripled with one out. The Rangers’ homer of the year clanged high off the Chick-Fil-A foul pole.
The Rangers tacked on four more runs and finished with 12 hits. Andrus went 3 for 4 with two triples, and Berkman was 3 for 4 with two RBIs.
All that was left was for Darvish to get three more outs. He got two of them and saw history scoot right under him and into center field.
“It was impossible to catch,” Darvish said when asked if could have stopped Gonzalez’s grounder. “I was aware that the crowd was really loud, but I threw that first pitch to the ninth hitter like it was the first pitch of the game.
“I wanted to continue what I did in spring training. I had a little more emotion today, but I feel like I did pretty well.”
Kenny Rogers has the only perfect game in club history, thrown in 1994. There have been four other no-hitters in Rangers history, by Jim Bibby in 1973, Bert Blyleven in 1977, and Nolan Ryan in 1990 and 1991.
Darvish’s consolation prize is his first victory of the season as well as his team’s. No pitcher in club history has gone longer to lose a no-hitter than Darvish, though Ryan lost two no-hitters in 1989 after 8 1/3 innings.
“I was sad,” right fielder Nelson Cruz said. “I would like to be a part of that. He was awesome. That’s what you do in video games.”