Yu Darvish was so masterful at times Wednesday night that it appeared one run would be enough for him to pitch the Texas Rangers to victory.
But they scored nine times for him in the fourth inning just to be safe.
The big inning and six dominant innings from Darvish were more than enough to send the Rangers to an 11-3 series-clinching victory over division-rival Anaheim.
Nelson Cruz hit a three-run homer in the fourth for the final three runs in the Rangers’ biggest single-inning output in a road game since Aug. 22, 2007, at Baltimore. They scored 30 runs in that game, and hit double digits Wednesday in the sixth on a two-run homer by Lance Berkman.
Manager Ron Washington, though, wanted to make it perfectly clear that the Rangers’ success Wednesday and throughout the season has been directly related to pitching.
None have been better than Darvish.
“We’re playing good baseball, and it starts with the temp of the game being set by the guy on the mound,” Washington said. “That allows the offense to get into the flow of the game. If the guy on the mound allows us to get in a flow, good things are going to happen.”
The Rangers were scheduled to board their charter flight for Minnesota after the game with a rush-hour arrival in the Twin Cities. An easy night and a winning night at Angel Stadium, though, would help make the trip a tad better.
Darvish and Angels spot starter Michael Roth matched zeroes through three scoreless innings, but five straight Rangers reached to start the fourth. The sequence started with a leadoff walk to Adrian Beltre. Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski followed with singles for a 1-0 lead. After Craig Gentry walked, David Murphy grounded the first pitch he saw into right field for a 2-0 lead.
Roth was replaced after striking out Mitch Moreland, but David Carpenter offered no relief. He walked Ian Kinsler to push home another run, but rebounded to strike out Elvis Andrus and put the Angels on the verge of escaping down only 3-0.
Berkman, though, grounded a two-run single to center before Beltre walked for a second time in the inning. Cruz followed with a drive that landed at the base of the faux rocks in center field.
It might have cleared the rocks if he hadn’t broken his bat. “That was crazy, man,” Cruz said.
The Rangers sent 13 batters to the plate in the inning and had five hits and five walks. It took the Angels 34 minutes to get three outs. Included in the inning was an injury delay for plate umpire John Hirschbeck, who no doubt is grateful that he was wearing a protective cup.
“I know it wasn’t a good feeling,” said Beltre, who doesn’t wear a cup and suffered a serious injury in 2009.
Darvish, who was already in control, sailed through three more innings. The right-hander allowed three hits and improved to 4-1, lowered his ERA to 1.65 (6 in 26.2) and added 11 strikeouts for a league-leading 49.
“Wash talked to me that inning and told me to throw as if it was a tight ballgame,” Darvish said. “I reminded myself of the same thing.”
The only rough patch he hit was in the fourth, when he took a fall while covering first base on a Josh Hamilton infield single. That nine-run cushion made for a soft landing.
Darvish struck out the side in the fifth and sixth for his 11th career game with at least 10 strikeouts. He has pitched 18 consecutive scoreless innings, but said he has been lucky at times during the stretch.
He wasn’t lucky Wednesday. His four-seam fastball was the best it has been this season, and he also had good results with his cutter, slider and a slow curveball that he used to strike out Mike Trout in the sixth.
“I felt really good about other pitches as well,” Darvish said. “I threw only a few curveballs today, but I thought my fastball and slider were especially working well.”
At 14-7 and in first place by 1 1/2 games, the Rangers have not lost a series this season and have not lost back-to-back games. Their bats are finally starting to come around, but all their early-season success starts with the guy on the mound.
Darvish was that guy Wednesday.
“It was another tremendous performance,” Washington said. “He was in command the whole night. That’s what he can give you. He went through a pretty good lineup.”