The Houston Astros ' first game since moving to the AL couldn't have gone much better. Building on it in their second one could prove difficult with Yu Darvish set to take the mound for the Texas Rangers .
Houston tries to open with two wins for the first time in a decade when this new AL West rivalry continues at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night.
Expectations are low for the Astros as they finished with the worst record in the major leagues in each of the last two seasons - including a club-record 107 losses in 2012 - before the club's 50-year run in the NL ended for this year. However, for one night at least, Houston found itself atop the AL standings after defeating Texas 8-2 on Sunday.
"To play our rivals here in Texas and to come out on top today, it's a treat," designated hitter Carlos Pena said.
Facing Darvish isn't. The right-hander begins his second big-league season after going 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 2012.
Darvish went 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA in his final six outings before taking the loss in the Rangers' winner-take-all wild-card game against Baltimore.
"I expect him to begin where he left off last season," pitching coach Mike Maddux told the Rangers' official website. "He had a nice spring (a 1.98 ERA and .167 opponents' batting average) and I see more confidence there."
Darvish has faced the Astros once - a 6-2 home win June 15 in which he struck out 11 in eight innings of two-run ball.
Center fielder Justin Maxwell , who had two triples and two RBIs on Sunday, is the only Astro with more than one hit off Darvish. He's 2 for 3 with a homer.
Houston's Lucas Harrell gets the challenge of matching up with Darvish on Tuesday.
"I look at it more like I'm facing their lineup," said Harrell (11-11, 3.76), who set career highs with 193 2/3 innings and 140 strikeouts last season. "They've got a good lineup, and I need to definitely be on my game."
That's especially true when he faces third baseman Adrian Beltre , who's 5 for 7 with two doubles against the right-hander. Nelson Cruz and David Murphy , who drove in the Rangers' runs Sunday, are each 2 for 6 with a homer off Harrell.
Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus is hitless in four-at-bats against Harrell, and he went 0 for 4 on Sunday. Andrus has agreed to an eight-year, $120 million extension.
New Rangers designated hitter and longtime Astro Lance Berkman is batting .471 (24 for 51) in a 13-game hitting streak at Minute Maid Park. He went 2 for 4 on Sunday when the Rangers dropped their opener for the first time since 2008."I think there have been some people who have been disparaging in their analysis of (Houston's) talent level, but this is the major leagues, and any team is capable of beating any other team on a given night," Berkman said.
Texas hasn't opened 0-2 since an 0-3 start to 2007.
|March 31, 2013||Joakim Soria||15-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 31, 2013||Colby Lewis||15-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 31, 2013||Martin Perez||15-Day DL||Cracked ulna bone, left forearm|
|March 24, 2013||Neftali Feliz||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 03, 2013||Martin Perez||Day-to-Day||Fractured left forearm|
|March 30, 2013||Alex White||60-Day DL||Right elbow strain|
|March 27, 2013||Fernando Martinez||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
HOUSTON (AP) -- Yu Darvish saw the ball skip between his shins, dashing his chance at perfection. Immediately, several Texas Rangers came to the mound to console him.
"I think my teammates were more disappointed than I was," he said through a translator.
Darvish was one out from a perfect game when Marwin Gonzalez grounded a clean single through the pitcher's legs, and Texas beat the Houston Astros 7-0 on Tuesday night.
The celebrated right-hander from Japan struck out a career-high 14 and was in complete control before Gonzalez smacked the first pitch up the middle. Darvish was unable to get his glove down in time and the ball skittered into center field well beyond a desperate dive by shortstop Elvis Andrus .
At that moment, one thought went through Darvish's mind.
"I can now go back to the dugout," he deadpanned. "Even if I got the complete game today, it's not going to translate to three or five wins. It's a win. A win's a win."
Darvish smiled and put up his hands - almost like, "Oh well, it happens." Texas' infielders quickly came to the mound, and manager Ron Washington joined them.
"I didn't want to be the last out," Gonzalez said. "I was trying to look for a good pitch to hit and put it in play. That's all I was thinking."
Washington patted Darvish on the chest and then signaled for a reliever. A crowd of 22,673 that included plenty of Rangers fans cheered Darvish as he walked off after 111 pitches. He stopped and tipped his cap before getting high-fives from teammates in the dugout.
He sat on the bench to watch the rest of the game, then joined the handshake line after the final out.
And if Darvish was upset about coming oh so close, he didn't show it.
"I went that far," he said. "I'm really satisfied."
Working from the stretch throughout - even though he never needed to - Darvish became the first pitcher to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning since Armando Galarraga on June 2, 2010. Of course, the Detroit pitcher was denied only because of an infamous missed call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce, who later admitted he blew the play.
On the second full day of the major league season, Darvish nearly picked up right where baseball left off last year, when there were a record three perfect games, thrown by Philip Humber , Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez .
Darvish's 14 strikeouts matched a Minute Maid Park record and were the most by a Rangers pitcher since Hall of Famer and current team CEO Nolan Ryan had 14 in July 1991 against the Angels.
Darvish arrived in the majors last year with much fanfare, having already been a five-time All-Star and two-time MVP in Japan. The Rangers paid more than $107 million to get him for five seasons.
The 6-foot-5 righty quickly settled in with Texas, becoming an All-Star last year on the way to going 16-9 with 221 strikeouts. He also once flirted with perfection, retiring the first 17 batters at Kansas City on Sept. 3.
"I think I got lucky today. I felt I pitched better against the Royals last year," Darvish said. "I had better command in that outing."
If he had been able to finish the job Tuesday, it would have been the earliest perfecto in history.
Darvish didn't really need a dazzling play from his defense as he shut down the Astros and chased the 24th perfect game in big league history - including the one Don Larsen tossed in the 1956 World Series, and two in 1880.
It was almost the second time in 10 months the overmatched Astros failed to put a runner on base. Cain's perfect game for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants came against Houston on June 13 last year.
Many expect the Astros to be the worst team in the majors this year, after two straight 100-loss seasons and a major league-low payroll under $22 million. But they cruised to an 8-2 win over Texas in the major league opener and their American League debut Sunday night.
The 26-year-old Darvish carried over a strong showing in spring training this year into near perfection in his first regular-season start. The Astros looked totally lost against him, often taking wild swings at breaking balls that bounced.
With the crowd on its feet and a mixture of cheers and "Yuuus" filling Minute Maid Park, Chris Carter took Darvish to a full count before striking out on the ninth pitch of the at-bat for the first out of the eighth inning.
Rick Ankiel followed by striking out and Justin Maxwell hit an easy grounder to second baseman Ian Kinsler .
Darvish looked toward the sky for a couple of seconds before retreating to the dugout.
He began the ninth by getting two easy groundouts before Gonzalez ruined his bid for perfection with a sharp grounder.
"That was impossible to catch," Darvish said.
The 24-year-old Gonzalez made his big league debut last year, hitting .234 in 80 games for Houston.
Darvish, who played seven professional seasons in Japan before joining the Rangers, set rookie franchise records for wins (16) and strikeouts (221) last season. He finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Mike Trout and Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes .
The win gives Darvish five straight regular-season victories dating to last season. He took the loss in the Rangers' 5-1 defeat to Baltimore in the AL wild-card game.
Using his dizzying array of pitches, including a fastball that topped out at 97 mph, a slider, and 95 mph cutters, Darvish bedeviled the mostly inexperienced Houston hitters.
"When I tell you we threw everything, we threw everything," said Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who caught Humber's perfect game for the White Sox last season. "We threw the kitchen sink tonight, but Yu has the ability to do that and he's special."
Darvish (1-0) sailed through the first four innings, striking out nine, including the side in the second and fourth.
Carter hit a long fly that looked as though it could be gone before David Murphy caught it just in front of the left-center wall for the first out of the fifth. First baseman Mitch Moreland made a nice catch on a liner by Ankiel for the second out.
Michael Kirkman relieved Darvish after Gonzalez's hit. Jose Altuve followed with a single before Kirkman fanned pinch-hitter J.D. Martinez to end it.
Darvish has never thrown a complete game in the majors.
Lucas Harrell (0-1), who was Houston's most successful starter a year ago with 11 wins, allowed six hits and one run with four strikeouts in six innings.
Lance Berkman had a run-scoring single in the third against his former team. He finished with three hits and two RBIs.
Kinsler hit a two-run homer off Rhiner Cruz in the seventh to make it 3-0. Texas added two runs in the eighth and two in the ninth.
NOTES: The last no-hitter by a Rangers pitcher was Kenny Rogers ' perfect game against the Angels on July 28, 1994. ... Berkman extended his hitting streak at Minute Maid Park to 14 games dating to July 26, 2010. That includes his last three home games with the Astros and 11 appearances as an opposing player with St. Louis and Texas. ... These teams wrap up the series Wednesday when Humber makes his Astros debut against Texas RHP Alexi Ogando .