Darvish fans 12 as Rangers secure home-field advantage
By Ryan Posner
ARLINGTON -- No matter where the Rangers play their postseason games, it's going to be crucial for them to have right-hander Yu Darvish performing at an ace level.
Darvish gave the Rangers plenty of reasons to believe he will be at that level, and assured most of those playoff games will be at home, Friday night in his final start of the regular season. He struck out 12 of the 24 batters he faced over six innings as the Rangers beat the Rays, 3-1, to clinch home-field throughout the postseason.
"It's great to see from a guy who's been on an upward trend," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "I think there's still another step, another gear from him. [But] very impressive night for Yu."
After a bit of a rough stretch in early September, Darvish has been about as good as it gets in his last two starts. He's 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA, 21 strikeouts and two walks in those outings. Opponents have hit just .109 in that span.
"Obviously, there have been tough times," Darvish said. "But I have had pretty good results lately. I think I'm in a pretty good position right now."
Making his 100th career start, Darvish struck out 12 batters in a game for the ninth time in his career. He also recorded his 28th career game of 10-plus strikeouts. Only Nolan Ryan (34) has more in Rangers history, and only Dwight Gooden had more in his first 100 career starts.
"[He was] extremely aggressive in the strike zone," Banister said. " [He had a] good, hard fastball and his secondary stuff was swing-and-miss against an aggressive club."
Darvish is expected to slot behind No. 1 Cole Hamels in the Rangers' postseason rotation. Darvish pitched in the Rangers' Wild Card Game during his rookie campaign in 2012, allowing three runs (two earned) over 6 2/3 innings in a loss. He also has playoff experience from his days in Japan.
"I think I had pretty good numbers over there, too," Darvish said, "It's going to be a different atmosphere and I'm excited to pitch in it."
After Darvish became the third pitcher in Rangers history to strike out 12 batters in six or fewer innings, the bullpen fired three scoreless frames to complete the win. In doing so, Rangers relievers set a club record with a streak of 28 2/3 scoreless innings.
"It's great watching [Darvish] when he's at his best," said Tony Barnette, who recorded two outs in the seventh. "He's one of the nastiest out there. When he's going well, it's fun to watch."
Darvish was certainly going well on Friday. He helped the Rangers clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They're hoping he can help bring them another first, as well -- a World Series title.
"He's an elite competitor and we saw that tonight," Banister said. "There's a lot of passion from Yu in what he wants to do and what he means to this club."