Darvish has started two of them and won both. This time he held the Mariners to one run on two hits and two walks as the Rangers pulled away to a 9-3 victory on Friday night at the Ballpark in Arlington.
"It was a struggle," manager Ron Washington said. "This was a struggle. Their pitcher matched Yu. It was a tough ballgame, and it was nice to be able to break it open like that."
The game started in a light drizzle with the first-pitch temperature at 66 degrees, the second lowest of the season. But there were still 45,075 fans there as the Rangers reduced their division-winning magic number to 16.
"Wasn't the weather awesome," said outfielder Josh Hamilton, who hit his 42nd home run of the season. "It was fun and we were glad we had fans in the stands. It's Friday night in Texas. But it was a great baseball game. Both Yu and their guy did a great job, but at the same time, our bats are bound to break out at some point."
A leadoff home run by Ian Kinsler and Hamilton's third-inning blast appeared to be all the runs the Rangers needed with Darvish on the mound. As the pennant race hits the stretch run, Darvish continues to throw as well or better than he has all season. It's September, and he has become the Rangers' most dominating pitcher, the kind that teams need when the playoffs roll around.
"Overall, I have been able to concentrate and compete against the hitters," Darvish said. "And when I need to throw strikes, I'm able to do so. Those two things are allowing me to relax. I'm able to throw strikes. I'm not feeling I have to throw strikes."
Darvish, who beat Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda in April in his other matchup against a Japanese-born pitcher, is now 4-1 with a 2.32 ERA in his last six games. In that stretch, opponents are hitting .150 off him and he is averaging 10.8 strikeouts against 2.74 walks per nine innings. Darvish entered the game 1-2 with a 9.00 ERA in three starts against the Mariners this season, but hadn't faced them since his first start after the All-Star break.
"It's not the same Darvish," Washington said. "Different pitcher, different attitude. It's different in that he's not trying to use every pitch he has. He identifies what's working and is going with it. He's not the same pitcher they saw in April and May, and it showed tonight."
Darvish, baffling the Mariners with a particularly effective slow curve, struck out nine, giving him 205 on the season. He is the 16th rookie since 1900 to strike out at least 200 batters in a season. The rookie record is 276 set by Dwight Gooden with the Mets in 1984.
Darvish had a good cut fastball that he used on left-handed hitters, but the slow breaking ball was the pitch of the night.
"He had the best feel for that slow breaking ball that I've seen," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "That was an equalizer for him tonight. He's an experienced guy. He recognized it real quick and kept going to the hammer there, and we weren't able to make that adjustment. You can't go up there looking for it or you'll get really abused. You just hope you can foul it off or he's going to make a mistake with it."
Darvish gave credit to catcher Geovany Soto for recognizing that the pitch would be effective.
"That's something I started to throw in the middle of the game," Darvish said. "Their hitters started to time all my other pitches, and I talked to Soto and we started to use the slow curveball more. Soto called the curveball at the right time."
Darvish's only tough inning was the fourth. The Rangers led, 2-0, when he walked Michael Saunders to lead off the inning. Kyle Seager then blasted one to deep center that ticked off Hamilton's glove on the warning track for a double that moved Saunders to third.
Darvish struck out John Jaso before Jesus Montero brought home a run with a sacrifice fly. That made it 2-1, but Darvish kept the Rangers in front by getting Mike Carp on a grounder to second. Beginning with Jaso's strikeout, Darvish retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced. He allowed just a leadoff walk to Dustin Ackley in the sixth inning that went nowhere for the Mariners.
Koji Uehara took over and retired the side in order in the eighth before the Rangers added seven runs in the bottom of the inning. Hamilton hit an RBI double and scored on an error, Soto hit a two-run double, and Elvis Andrus capped the inning with a three-run triple.