"Yeah, I hate to say this, but if they resume this game tonight, Yu Darvish [and] C.J. Wilson aren't coming back." - Joey Matches on Twitter, 7:34 p.m. CDT Friday
I was half-wrong. I'm not fond of being wrong, but there it is. Maybe I was half-wrong because I underestimated Darvish's capacity for overcoming adversity (both physically and mentally, in this case), or because I figured the precipitation might never stop falling, or because I believed the Rangers would play things as conservatively as possible with their most luminous young pitching star. Maybe I just wasn't capable of suspending my disbelief at the thought of Darvish pitching on both sides of a two-hour rain delay, seeing as how the stakes of this single game were relatively low, and seeing as how injury/performance concerns typically culminate in a rain-delayed starter being knocked out after just 60-90 minutes of downtime.
But at 9:00 p.m. sharp, Darvish emerged from the Rangers' dugout and began the several hundred foot excursion to the Rangers' bullpen. C.J. Wilson, the Rangers hero-turned-nemesis and primary antagonist in this long-building Rangers vs. Angels rivalry, never emerged from his respective dugout. He was not seen again for the rest of the night; his first-inning mess was entrusted to emergency long man Jerome Williams, who failed utterly in his efforts to clean it up, and then suffered through 6.2 miserable innings of his own in a game that was effectively over by the fourth inning.
C.J. is only the 13th starting pitcher in the last five major league seasons to yield four or more earned runs while recording one or fewer outs. He'll seek redemption in a few hours with what will be his second start in about 17 hours' time, and he might achieve the winning outcome that he's assuredly seeking ... or he might become the first starting pitcher to lose consecutive games for his ballclub since Wilbur Wood in 1973. The latter possibility is delicious, but I dare not speculate too hardon it. All I know is that C.J., whether by his own choice or that of Grand Poobah Scioscia, decided that a post-delay restart was not in the best interest of his health and/or his team, and that was the end of that.
And, heck, maybe going down that cautious path was completely justified. Here's the thing: the fact that Darvish returned -- albeit not before some intense debate on the part of the Rangers' coaching staff, and an apparent false start where Scott Feldman actually began warming up -- where C.J. didn't return makes for a nice, convenient juxtaposition of seeming warrior vs. weakling. It does a sensational job of solidifying the pro-Darvish, anti-C.J. narrative. The fans love this. They eat it up. I get it. But there's a good reason why you generally don't see starting pitchers pick up from where they left off after protracted delays, * and I'd be lying to you if I said that the initial sight of Darvish returning to the bump after such an extended layoff didn't turn my stomach over a few times.
[* And while I'm still going on about this, let's be clear about something -- the cluster of storm cells that stopped down the entire game after only four outs was on a clear southeastern trajectory for the Ballpark more than 40 minutes before first pitch. Everything did ultimately turn out for the best, but I wasn't on board with starting the game on time because of what was looming nearby and because of the clear and present danger of losing both starting pitchers after just 1-2 innings, and I'm hoping that if a similar situation arises in the future, the parties responsible for making these sorts of decisions do a better job of erring on the side of caution. That was a mess that nearly blew up into a gigantic mess.]
But even with such well-intentioned concerns, the thing that left you feeling okay about Darvish's reentry was that you simply couldn't imagine the Rangers taking an undue risk with his health and pushing ahead with anything less than complete confidence in his physical well-being ... and while the end result of it all wasn't Darvish at his sharpest, it was pretty close to being Darvish at his most entertaining, with a refreshingly engaged sellout crowd furnishing a major assist in that regard. The weekend crowds tend to get a bad rap for not grasping some nuances of the game (e.g. cheering every ball hit into the air as if it were an impending home run), but this crowd was electric, hanging on Darvish's every triumph as though he were in the process of crafting a perfect game and punctuating every strikeout with a booming repetition of his first name. I wish we could bottle and save that crowd for a rainy day.
And what of Darvish himself? The box score isn't suggestive of a great performance (5.1 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 7 K, 3 BB, 2 HR, 93 pitches), but given the adverse circumstances of the night and the fact that he had to try and stay loose for more than two hours, I was good with where it went and how it turned out. Since April 23rd (a period spanning four starts), Darvish has produced a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 37-to-11 over 26.2 innings, has produced the fourth-best swinging strike rate out of 114 qualifying starting pitchers, and has managed to induce one "chase" for every three pitches outside of the strike zone, which is the third-best rate among those same 114 pitchers over that same period. He hasn't quite achieved monster status yet, but he's not that far away at this point.
I've run this nearly 1,000 words deep, and haven't touched upon one single Rangers offensive accomplishment from the night. That's a damn shame. I haven't gotten around to Josh Hamilton's two homers (which rendered him only the third player in history to clout 17 home runs in his team's first 33 games, a feat not even Barry Bonds in his 73-homer campaign replicated), or Mitch Moreland's upper-deck shot, or Adrian Beltre's one-kneed double, or Mike Napoli's bizarre second triple in as many days), or even the unusual distinction of this being the rare home game to run past midnight ... but, then, maybe that's for the best, because we have to do it all over again in a few hours.
And the crowd that induced so many goosebumps with its ravenous late-game "WE WANT CEE-JAY!" chant will have its wish granted at high noon, as the pitcher in question braces for a second chorus of vocal disapproval in less than 24 hours, and tries to avoid induction into the Wilbur Wood club nearly 40 years after its foundation.