Today, we pour one out for the greatness that is Michael Clarke Duncan, celebrate the continued ascendance of one of our own, and revel just a bit more in the fact that baseball in North Texas is no longer rendered irrelevant by the opening kickoff of the Cowboys' regular season:
● I've expended vast quantities of virtual ink in the last 30 days writing about Yu Darvish, the steady deterioration of his performance from good (before the All-Star break) to wobbly (coming out of the All-Star break) to just downright cruddy (late July through early-mid August), and the dawning realization that he might not be able to get the cart fully back on the tracks in 2012, much less break through to the next level of major league success ... and, you know, we get how small samples work. We know better than to assign an undue amount of predictive value to short-run success. And, as such, we know that it's a bad idea to look at what Darvish has done lately and boldly declare "yeah, the ace has arrived."
But good grief. That's a cumulative pitching line over his last three starts (at Toronto, versus Tampa Bay, and at Kansas City) that reads 21.0 IP, 6 R/ER, 12 H, 26 K, 4 BB, and 1 HR, a period during which he has looked and acted and pitched like the legitimate front-line pitcher that the Rangers thought they were getting, and the exclamation point on his recent stretch of dominance was appended yesterday when he carved through the first 17 Royals he faced without hesitation, with Royals batter No. 18 -- Johnny Giavotella -- working his way back from a 1-2 hole to a 3-2 count, and then somehow laying off a filthy 84 mph slider that grazed the outer boundary of the strike zone for ball four.
After a BABIP'd single lofted just beyond the reach of Elvis Andrus into short center field, the no-hitter was gone as well, and then the unfortunate sequencing persisted moments later as Darvish was victimized by a frustrating triple-double combo, and, with that, what had been a perfect game in progress moments earlier had devolved into a 6-3 game. I'm a bit hesitant to just chalk it all up to unlucky sequencing, given that the triple was cracked on a pitch that caught the middle of the plate and had some velocity behind it (or at least enough that Nelson Cruz couldn't run it down), but three runs allowed in seven innings undersells Darvish's effort when you consider that he allowed only four baserunners in those seven innings, and was pure filth otherwise.
Yeah, I feel like it's pretty safe to say that he does have it figured out right now, and if you're going to figure something out while playing for a playoff-bound team, September is the right month for everything to click ... but, still, it wasn't all that long ago that public opinion on Darvish was quite gloomy, and there are five more starts between now and the ALDS where, hopefully, we can develop a more advanced understanding of exactly what it is that we'll be getting out of Darvish over the next couple of months.
● For what this is worth (which may be nothing), Darvish's last three starts have been the first three starts where he's been paired with Geovany Soto, who has taken over as the club's everyday catcher during Mike Napoli's injury-induced hiatus, and who initiated yesterday's five-homer barrage (Soto, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and Michael Young) with an early-game three-run blast. On a tangentially related note, Napoli still isn't ready to embark upon a rehab assignment and there's still no clarity on his recovery timetable, and now the thing you wonder about is whether Napoli will make it back into the lineup quickly enough to get his feet back underneath him and possibly establish any kind of rhythm at the plate before October rolls around.
● The ninth-inning events that arose from the Cruz blast had little bearing on the outcome of the game itself, but they served as adequate groundwork for what may well end up being further tension in this series, as Cruz was drilled in the hip during his ninth-inning plate appearance -- apparently because the Royals took umbrage when he spent too much time admiring his earlier home run -- and triggered a benches-clearing incident when he began shouting and walking towards the offending hurler, one Louis Coleman:
Cruz admitted that he might have taken an extended look at his 420-foot homer in his previous at-bat to spark what he believed was an intentional hit by pitch. [Royals catcher Brayan] Pena, Cruz's teammate in the Dominican winter league for several season, said it wasn't intentional.
Both benches and bullpen cleared, and everyone met at home plate as Cruz and Pena jawed.
"[Pena] was lying to my face," said Cruz, who was ejected Friday for slamming his bat to the ground after striking out at Cleveland. "I knew they hit me on purpose. They can say whatever they want. I'm not going to do anything. I just told them that’s BS."
This led to a rather amusing sequence on the FOX Sports Kansas City side when Royals play-by-play man Ryan Lefebvre -- who criticized Milton Bradley on the Royals telecast back in 2008, and then nearly got to meet him face to face after the game -- proceeded to blast Cruz for his earlier actions and for nearly instigating a full-fledged brawl, and then, as Young launched the next pitch 420-plus feet over the fence, proceeded to praise Young for running out his home run the right way and not showing up the pitcher, even though Young apparently stared down Coleman as he ran down the first base line and then reportedly shouted a few choice words at Coleman moments later.
You may be tired of seeing Young in the lineup everyday, and you may fear the consequences of playing him everyday in the post-season, and you may even want to see him playing somewhere other than Texas in 2013 ... but that moment, the moment when Young exacted his revenge on the Royals for the perceived injustice against his teammate by murdering a fastball and then strutting around the bases, was just pure, unadulterated awesome, and reminded us all of a time when it was still fun to watch Young ply his craft at the plate. Ron Washington recently talked up how Young was going to do something "grand" before all was said and done this year; regardless of whatever else happens, I do hope Young has a few more moments like this left in him.