"It was as good as I've seen his stuff," Washington said. "They couldn't do anything with his curveball, and his [fastball] was real crisp. He was doing everything we wanted him to do."
He just didn't get the no-hitter. Darvish did take a perfect game into the sixth before it started getting away from him, but the Rangers were able to hold on for an 8-4 victory. The Rangers hit five home runs and have now won 12 of their last 16 games.
Darvish is 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA in his last four starts after holding the Royals to three runs in seven innings. He allowed three hits and one walk -- all in the sixth inning -- while striking out six.
"I think it's coming together, or going in that direction," Darvish said. "Today I really felt my command was good. Everything is going in a good direction."
The last four starts suggest Darvish has achieved his goal of removing all outside distractions and not worrying about endless adjustments. His goal was to start pitching with the same style and attitude that he had in Japan, and he appears to be doing just that.
"I just see him relaxing," Washington said. "I see him getting the ball and doing his thing. He's not over-thinking anything, he's just competing. He's getting a feel for what works and he's staying with it."
"He has been phenomenal, and his fastball command is the thing that has put him over the top," catcher Geovany Soto said. "He's getting early outs with it, and when he goes deep into counts, he's got his breaking ball to put them away. But the main thing is his fastball."
Everything was clicking going into the sixth inning on Monday. A three-run home run by Soto and solo shots from Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz staked Darvish to a 6-0 lead. At that point, Darvish had retired 15 straight hitters, and he started the sixth by getting Eric Homser on a grounder to first and Brayan Pena on a fly to right.
"He was throwing strikes," Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said. "He was locating well. It's not the guy that came in with as many walks as he has on the season. He was pounding the strike zone and definitely executing every pitch he had."
Darvish also got ahead, 1-2, on Johnny Giavotella, the Royals' No. 9 hitter, but couldn't put him away. Instead, Darvish ended up walking him on a full-count slider, just missing the outside edge of the plate. On the mound, Darvish was clearly disappointed he didn't get the call.
"When I threw the pitch ... I tried to throw it down the middle, and I threw it on the outside edge," Darvish said. "At the moment, I wanted the call. But after I looked at the replay, I saw it was barely a ball, which goes to show the umpire was right and the batter had a very good at-bat."
That ended a streak of 24 consecutive batters retired by Darvish, as he had retired the last seven batters he faced in a 1-0 victory over the Rays last Tuesday. The 17 straight batters retired on Monday is the deepest a Rangers pitcher has taken a perfect game since Kenny Rogers retired the first 21 batters he faced against the Indians on Aug. 9, 2002.
"The perfect game, I didn't think about that," Darvish said. "I just wanted to pitch as long as the team wanted me to."
The no-hitter was the next to go. David Lough followed with a blooper that just eluded shortstop Elvis Andrus as he fought the sun going back into short center. The shutout then crashed when Tony Abreu lined a triple into the gap in right-center, scoring both runners. That also ended Darvish's streak of 15 consecutive scoreless innings over his past three starts.
Another run scored when left fielder David Murphy couldn't make a diving catch on Alex Gordon's soft line drive to left field. But Murphy did run down Butler's long drive into the left-center gap for the final out of the inning.
"I think every hit I gave up, after the walk, they still weren't bad pitches," Darvish said. "I was making my pitches, they just got hits."
Darvish retired the side in order in the seventh before Mike Adams took over in the eighth. The Royals picked up a run in the eighth off of Adams, but Michael Young finished the Rangers' power explosion with a two-run home run in the ninth.
The home run came immediately after Cruz was hit by a pitch from reliever Louis Coleman and took exception to it. He started yelling at Coleman and Pena -- the Royals' catcher -- before order was restored. Young delivered the Rangers' response with their fifth home run of the day.
"It's over," Murphy said. "They made their statement and we reacted the way we wanted to react -- the next guy hit a home run."
That was a sideshow. Darvish was the main event on Monday afternoon, and that was evident to the Royals as much as the Rangers.