It was the sort of affair where the final score belied how close the game really was, where 'Rangers 9, Mariners 3' was a clear misrepresentation of how precarious the lead had been for the vast majority of the night ... and, on the one hand, that doesn't really matter so much, because I suppose the only thing that really matters in the end is that the Rangers managed to blow up the scoreboard within their allotment of offensive chances. No, you're not especially thrilled that it took them seven-plus innings to score more than two runs at home against a last-place ballclub, but they eventually figured it out, and it's the timing that matters far less than the fact that they did finally get it done.
That's one way of looking at how it all played out. The other way of looking at it is that even with Joe Nathan and Mike Adams (and a DL-residing Robbie Ross) unavailable, they probably weren't going to need more than two runs of support, because Yu Darvish and Koji Uehara had it all down on lock. If you run with the assumption that Alexi Ogando would have successfully nailed it down in the ninth inning with just a one-run lead, then there you go. And, yeah, it's still the Mariners you're talking about, but there isn't another pitcher on this staff who evokes more confidence right now, who has a better chance of stretching two runs of support into a late-game lead for his club, than one Yu Darvish.
We've come full circle, I think. The Darvish hype machine was operating in overdrive mode during the winter months and throughout spring training, remained fairly strong through May/June, trailed off into near-nothingness as he floundered through late July into early August ... and now, as the hour grows late in the regular season, I get the sense that we've crossed a new hype threshold. Up until the last 30 days or thereabouts, the buzz was tied more to the potential and the hope that Darvish would achieve ace status than him actually having achieved it. Right now, though, it feels like this is more about the hope and potential having actualized, and the growing belief that Darvish is developing into the No. 1 starter that we dreamt on right before our very eyes.
Over his last five starts, Darvish has spun 36 innings of 2.00 ERA baseball on 16 hits and eight walks against 43 strikeouts and just one home run -- and while I attempt to work through the question of "What's more impressive: the enormous reduction in the walks, or the fact that he's been allowing one-quarter of one home run per nine innings over an extended period of time?", my mind is further blown by the fact that he has held opposing batters to a .132/.191/.215 (.184 wOBA) over those same five starts. From August 17th-present, that .184 opponents' wOBA has been the lowest mark posted by any of 95 qualifying major league starting pitchers. The second-lowest mark belongs to Max Scherzer, at .214. Thirty points of separation between No. 1 and No. 2. Ridiculous.
I could continue spitting statistics, but there is one particular sequence from last night that stole the collective attention of the masses, that served as further confirmation of what Darvish can do to hitters when he has the command and the confidence and the inclination to do so:
A 62 mph bender, the slowest pitch Darvish has thrown as a major leaguer, and a pitch which had Munenori Kawasaki backing out of the box before the pitch had even reached its target -- and then put-away 94 mph heat. We talk so much about the importance of a pitcher achieving just the right amount of separation between his fastball and change-up -- not too much, not too little -- and maintaining a consistent slot/arm speed to aid in the intended deception, but I'm not sure what you can do about fastball/curveball separation of this degree. It doesn't feel like there's deception at work here so much as a simple case of "alright, here's two pitches with 32 miles per hour of separation and great location; see if you can do anything with either of them." And Kawasaki couldn't.
The first half of his season was marred by the walks, but he was still a deserving All-Star, a pitcher whose merits outweighed his deficiencies. His last four weeks have been legitimately ace-caliber. We're six and a half weeks separated from a potential World Series Game 7, and now that we've seen that Darvish can do what he's doing right now over a span of two, three, four, five starts, we're now left to dream on the very real possibility of him being the post-season rotation monster that helps carry this ballclub over the finish line once and for all.