ARLINGTON -- Sometimes, the worst games are the best ones. That's the way Yu Darvish may someday see this one. He'd been virtually perfect earlier in the week -- retiring 26 straight Astros on Tuesday. His breaking stuff was crisp that game, his fastball on the corners.
This time, Darvish started with almost nothing. His control was all over the place. He walked Angels leadoff man Mike Trout to start the game and then hit Erick Aybar with a pitch. He walked Albert Pujols to load the bases.
At that point, Darvish did what the true ace of a staff does. He stepped off the mound, gathered himself and figured a way out. He dropped the cutter that had been so good against the Astros and went to the breaking stuff.
Josh Hamilton pounded a slider into the ground for a double play that scored one run, but also gave Darvish some hope of escaping. Halos first baseman Mark Trumbo dumped another into left field to make it, 2-0.
But that was that. Darvish struck out Howie Kendrick with a 94-mph fastball to end the first inning, and his teammates came right back with three in the bottom of the inning. At that point, Darvish was off and running.
The Angels had runners in scoring position in four of the first five innings and scored another run in the fifth. But when Darvish was pushed against the wall, when he needed to make a pitch, he made it.
"I felt after the third inning, he kind of settled down," Rangers catcher Geovany Soto said. "I thought he worked quicker. I told him, 'Let's work quicker, let's get you going and move the tempo up.' I thought that really helped him a lot."
Darvish needed 85 pitches to get through five innings, and when Rangers manager Ron Washington saw that the skin had opened up on his right ring finger, Darvish's night was over. He did enough to get his second victory of the season, as the Rangers hit three home runs and got four shutout innings from three relievers in a 7-3 victory over the Angels Sunday night at Rangers Ballpark.
Curt Schilling once said it was games like this, he might appreciate the most. These are the games in which everything comes hard. His job becomes surviving and staying around long enough to give his team a chance to win.
Even most of the top pitchers have their best stuff only two of every three times, so there are plenty of days when it's about competing and not backing down. That's what Darvish did on Sunday night.
"Yu Darvish really did some good damage control right there [in the first inning]," Washington said. "We got back in the game, and Yu settled down and kept us around until we were able to put some more runs on the board."
For his part, Darvish said the injury was more of skin coming off his right ring finger than a blister opening up. He said it took him some time to come up with a fallback position, and once he did, he got back into a groove.
"I had trouble with my control," Darvish said through an interpreter. "I had to make the best of the situation to select the pitches I could throw and get outs with."
That's the advantage of having six or seven quality pitches. Against the Astros, he pounded the strike zone with all of them. Washington said Darvish might have been too "amped" up in the first inning. Darvish said strong winds swirling through the stadium could have been an issue.
Either way, this game was similar to his first start at Rangers Ballpark in 2012. Darvish very nearly didn't get out of the first inning in that one, but made enough adjustments to get the game into the sixth inning despite allowing five runs.
That first start was the beginning of a rough three-month ride in which Darvish seemingly didn't trust his stuff enough to throw strikes. Down the stretch, though, he found his confidence, challenged hitters and had a 2.35 ERA in his final eight starts.
The Rangers are thinner almost every place, including the rotation, and need Darvish to pitch like a front-of-the-rotation guy. He had some help in getting through his second game, but he should have come out of it feeling pretty good.
"He gives you a lot of different looks," Trumbo said. "He's not an easy guy to figure out. He was throwing a lot more pitches with sinking action than I remember in the past."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.