Yu Darvish’s nemeses so far in his career have been the Oakland Athletics and those pillows he uses in spring training.
The A’s, though, have been more annoying than any pain in the neck.
Their hitters, one through nine, seem to give Darvish fits by the way they extend at-bats or go against scouting reports or find a way to fend off his best pitches.
That didn’t change Monday night at O.co Coliseum, where Darvish labored through six innings and logged 116 pitches only to receive a no-decision.
But he said that he is better equipped to face the A’s this year than in the previous two, in which he posted a 1-6 record against the two-time defending American League West champions.
The results were better in his first start against them this season, and his ability to escape three A’s threats early in the game gave the Texas Rangers enough time to rally to a 4-3 victory to open a three-game series.
Donnie Murphy provided the go-ahead hit in the eighth inning, driving in Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Joakim Soria stranded the tying run at second base in the ninth after a one-out error on Elvis Andrus.
Darvish, though, even while not at his best, found a way against the one team that gets under his skin.
“I think they are smart hitters, and they are able to make adjustments,” Darvish said. “I know I haven’t pitched well in this stadium. Compared to last year, I think I’ve matured mentally to battle teams like that. I think that I won’t get frustrated or irritated, and I will focus on the batter in front of me.”
Shin-Soo Choo started the game with a home run, but he would leave in the seventh inning after spraining his left ankle on a close play at first base in which he was initially called safe before the call was overturned after video review.
X-rays taken of the ankle were negative, and an MRI has been scheduled for Tuesday. Choo said that he feels pain when he runs, and manager Ron Washington expects to give Choo at least a day off Tuesday.
“I hit the bag too hard,” Choo said. “I didn’t know exactly what happened, but I felt very sore when I hit the bag. I talked to Wash. I didn’t want to make it worse.”
All three A’s runs came in the second, an inning that Brandon Moss opened with a towering homer on Darvish’s first pitch. Coco Crisp, who reached in his first four plate appearances, drove in two more with a two-out single to left.
The A’s got Darvish for eight hits and four walks, but he prevented them from more by pitching out of trouble in the first, third and fourth innings.
Crisp opened the A’s first with a single and quick steal of second, but Darvish stranded him at third.
In the third, Oakland had runners at second and third with one out, but Darvish got Alberto Callaspo for one of his six strikeouts and got Josh Reddick on a popup to shallow left field.
The A’s loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth, but Darvish struck out Josh Donaldson on a slider in the dirt to end the threat. Darvish then retired seven of the final eight batters he faced.
“He beared down on us,” Donaldson said. “I came up with the bases loaded one time, and he threw a pretty good slider for strike three. The guy’s good, not just your run of the mill guy.”
Darvish said that threw more changeups and curveballs later in the game after detecting that the A’s were sitting on the slider with two strikes against him. But he was determined after the first three innings that he would pitch into the sixth even though his pitch count was at 91 after four and 102 after five.
“After the third inning, I told Wash, no matter how high the pitch count, I was going to pitch through six innings,” Darvish said.
The Rangers’ bullpen worked three scoreless innings, with Neal Cotts getting his first win of the season, but things got tight against Soria in the ninth after Andrus threw high and wide to first base and allowed Jed Lowrie to reach second with one out.
Soria, though, got Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes to end it.
“Soria was real good,” Washington said. “It could have come unraveled, but it didn’t.”
Down 3-1, the Rangers scored the game’s final three runs. Prince Fielder started the fourth with a double and scored as Kouzmanoff, the AL Player of the Week, followed with a single to center.
In the fifth, Andrus and Alex Rios singled with two outs, and Fielder followed with a third straight base hit to plate Andrus and tie score.
“It seems like we’ve been executing at the right time lately,” Murphy said. “When you do that, you’re going to win ballgames.”