Maybe, in a way, it was for the best that Yu Darvish didn’t throw a no-hitter Friday night. It likely always would have come attached with an asterisk.
David Ortiz singled with two outs in the ninth inning through an infield shift, ending Darvish’s bid one out shy of history and also putting to rest a controversial scoring decision two innings earlier that had kept the no-hitter intact.
But there’s no arguing that Darvish was dominant in an 8-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox, or that being an official scorer is one of the most thankless jobs in baseball.
Darvish retired the first 20 batters before Ortiz reached on a disputed error, and registered 12 strikeouts in falling one out short of a no-no for the second time in his career.
The Rangers scored five times in the fifth inning, capped with a two-run homer by Leonys Martin, and Elvis Andrus went 4 for 5 in his first game back in the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
Darvish, however, was the story. Official scorer Steve Weller almost was.
“I think that’s the best stuff I’ve seen him have since he’s been here, even the other opportunities he’s had to throw a no-hitter,” manager Ron Washington said. “His stuff tonight was really good. He did one heck of a job out there tonight against a very good offensive club.”
Darvish has seen a perfect game bounce away on a ball through his legs, and now has seen another go away on a grounder that snuck through three defenders on the right side of the infield.
But this one would have been disputed if Ortiz’s grounder had been fielded for the final out.
A fly ball hit by Ortiz that fell between second baseman Rougned Odor and right fielder Alex Rios with two outs in the seventh inning was ruled an error by Weller even though neither player touched the ball.
Weller reviewed the play several times before and after his ruling. He claimed that official scorers across the league were told two years ago that an error must be charged to an outfielder on plays when a fly ball falls in between two players in position to make a catch.
Rule 10.12(a)(1) of the official baseball rulebook supports Weller, saying “the official scorer shall charge an outfielder with an error if such outfielder allows a fly ball to drop to the ground if, in the official scorer’s judgment, an outfielder at that position making ordinary effort would have caught such fly ball.”
“Since the play happened and it broke up a perfect game and the amount of emphasis that was on this, I called the Elias Sports Bureau,” Weller said to a pool reporter. “I normally do not do that, but I called them. They reviewed the play and agreed with the call. I got another call back and I asked them the question about our official scorer’s meeting in New York, and if that still stands. They said, in spite of everything else, it’s still a judgment call on the official scorer.”
Darvish retired Dustin Pedroia on a fly ball to center field to start the seventh and Shane Victorino on a grounder to first base before falling behind Ortiz 3-0. Ortiz took a strike before lifting a towering fly ball to right field.
Odor, who was playing in shallow right field as the Rangers infield shifted for the pull-happy Ortiz, went back on the ball and stopped as Rios approached. Odor made a late stab for the ball, but it fell to the ground.
“We had the shift on, and I thought that [Odor] was a little closer to the ball than I was,” Rios said. “At the end, it’s my responsibility to call him off and it’s a shame that I couldn’t help him achieve a great pitching performance tonight. I should have taken control of that ball.”
Said Odor: “I was trying to make a big effort to get that ball because I saw it in the air. With the noise, I didn’t know if he called it or not. I heard something on my back, but I couldn’t hear if he was calling it or not because there was a lot of noise with the crowd.”
Weller reviewed the play before judging that Rios should have made the play. Darvish, who stopped in his tracks and spit after seeing the ball fall in, then walked Mike Napoli before getting Grady Sizemore on a fly ball to Rios.
“I know I hit a ball that was supposed to be caught,” Ortiz said. “The guy is throwing a no-hitter. We all understand, but when it comes down to the rules of the game, that’s a hit. That’s the rule that we all know, and that’s the rules that the game had for more than 100 years.”
Said Darvish: “I think I found out it was an error when I was facing Napoli, but I was getting tired so I thought it could’ve been a hit so I didn’t have to pitch that many more innings.”
Darvish started the eighth with a walk to Xander Bogaerts before retiring the next three batters, and was at 113 pitches when he started the ninth.
Pedroia grounded out for the first out of the ninth, and Victorino struck out. That left it to Ortiz, who singled through the shift to end the no-hit bid.
Darvish was pulled in favor of Alexi Ogando, and left to a rousing ovation from the Globe Life Park crowd of 45,392.
Darvish (3-1) was trying to join Jim Bibby, Bert Blyleven, Nolan Ryan and Kenny Rogers as other Rangers in club history with no-hitters. Ryan did it twice, and Rogers threw a perfect game.
Instead, Darvish became the third pitcher in major-league history to have two no-hitters broken up with two outs in the ninth.
“This is the second time I’ve experienced this, but if I keep pitching like this, someday I’ll get it,” Darvish said.