Darvish was impressive on Tuesday night in a great head-to-head battle with Rays right-hander James Shields. He was especially remarkable in getting out of some early trouble, and that allowed the Rangers to prevail in a 1-0 victory.
Ian Kinsler delivered the only run, hitting a full-count fastball from Shields over the left-field fence for a home run to lead off the fourth.
"Shields is a guy who is never going to give in, really, all the way through the at-bat," Kinsler said. "Whether it's 3-0, 3-1, he's going to try to make the best pitch he possibly can and not leave it over the middle of the plate. He did a good job of pitching tonight, and luckily I got a fastball in. That's the goal -- to win games, regardless of how it's done."
Darvish did so by remaining focused on nothing but making good pitches, and that new approach served him well over seven scoreless innings. He allowed six hits, walked two and struck out 10. This is the eighth time he has struck out 10-plus batters, tied for the second most in one season in club history. Nolan Ryan did it 18 times in 1989 and eight times in 1990.
Darvish missed his last start because of a tight right hamstring and was pitching on 10 days' rest. That didn't bother him. Nothing did.
"Tonight I felt really good," Darvish said. "My command was good. I was focused on pitching. I was not worried about throwing strikes or giving up walks. I'm just pitching. I think James Shields is a very good pitcher. He has been pitching very well. But I didn't think I was pitching against him. I was just focused on each pitch and getting hitters out."
The Rangers, who are still holding a 5 1/2 game lead in the American League West, have won two straight against the Rays and did so by beating their two best pitchers. They knocked off David Price on Monday night before Darvish outdueled Shields.
"It's not very fun," Shields said of losing a 1-0 game. "These are the games we've got to win. I mean, Darvish, you have to give him some credit. I think he got his last start skipped. I don't know if he needed some rest or whatever, but he looked good tonight."
Darvish allowed baserunners in each of the first five innings but held the Rays to 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position in that stretch. Tampa Bay went 1-for-10 in the game.
"Early on ... I thought we had a shot," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We had opportunities. I think if we had gotten some points, it would have been a different game, obviously. But [Darvish] gained confidence [as the game progressed], that's what I saw. And our contact got weaker, whereas the first part of the game, it was pretty good."
In the second, Darvish walked leadoff hitter Ben Zobrist and then gave up a double to Luke Scott. That put runners at second and third with nobody out, but Darvish got out of it. He struck out Carlos Pena, retired Ryan Roberts on a pop to shallow center and set down Jose Lobaton on a grounder to Kinsler.
"In that situation I really don't mind giving up one or two runs," Darvish said. "I'm just focused on making good pitches."
Darvish also got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth when he got Lobaton to hit a sharp grounder right at first baseman Mitch Moreland, who started an inning-ending double play.
Moreland made an even bigger play in the eighth after Mike Adams took over. With two outs and a runner on second, Zobrist smashed a wicked grounder down the first-base line. But Moreland made a tremendous backhanded stop diving to his left and jogged to the bag for the third out.
"That play ... You don't have a lot of time," Moreland said. "You just react."
Joe Nathan took over in the ninth and struck out the side in order, preserving a well-deserved win for Darvish. It was his 13th of the season, a new record for a Rangers rookie.
"He was outstanding, he really was," Washington said. "Especially when he got into the third inning, he really began to execute pitches. Any time he got into trouble, he just executed his pitches. That's what it takes."
And that's the new Yu the Rangers are talking about at the Ballpark.