Yu Darvish didn’t think he’d rack up the strikeouts Thursday night.
He had better command of his four-seam fastball in his last start, in his opinion, but he made up for it by locating it in key situations and mixing in a slider that confused batters once again.
That proved to be the perfect formula for Darvish, who matched a career-high with 14 strikeouts and led the Texas Rangers to a 7-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Rangers Ballpark.
Texas won its fourth straight, and headed to Oakland after the game trailing the A’s by 3 1/2 games in the American League West.
“Today was a great game,” first baseman Mitch Moreland said. “A lot of guys pitched in, and Darvish threw unbelievably.”
The Rangers have seen Darvish turn in gems like this before. After all, his last 14-strikeout performance came against the same D-backs on May 27 in Arizona.
That’s just one of the many notable items from Thursday’s game, including:• Darvish set the franchise record with four starts with at least 14 strikeouts in a season. He passed Nolan Ryan, who did it three times in 1990.
• Darvish is the first pitcher to strike out at least 14 Diamondbacks in a start twice in a season. He’s also the first pitcher since interleague play began in 1997 with multiple games of at least 14 strikeouts against the same opponent.
• To put his four 14-strikeout games in perspective, only two other pitchers in the big leagues have at least 14 strikeouts in starts this season. Chris Sale of the White Sox had 14 on June 14, and Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers had 17 on April 26.
• Darvish has recorded at least 10 strikeouts in 16 of his first 50 starts, second most in the modern era (since 1900). Dwight Gooden had 20 in his first 50 starts with the Mets in 1984-85.
“His stuff was just nasty,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “He was throwing fastballs to the corners. He had a really good split tonight, and a really good slider. He just kept mixing it up and the strikeouts kept coming.”
Fittingly, Darvish started the game by striking out Gerardo Parra on a two-seam fastball, and his first six outs and 10 of his first 11 came on strikeouts.
Darvish had at least two strikeouts in his first six scoreless innings, and then worked around a pair of singles in a scoreless seventh that featured no strikeouts.
Darvish exited after 111 pitches, 78 for strikes, and the seven innings were the longest he’s gone since June 13. He picked up his 10th win by scattering five hits with no walks. Nine of his strikeouts were swinging. He also recorded seven of them on sliders, five on four-seam fastballs and two on two-seam fastballs.
“I didn’t think I was going to get this many strikeouts,” Darvish said. “But my movement on my slider was really inconsistent. It dropped down, some were going sideways, and I think that worked in my favor.”
It certainly left the Diamondbacks hitters guessing.
“As a hitter, you’ve got a lot of different thought processes in the box,” Arizona outfielder Adam Eaton said. “When you hit your spot and have that many pitches, it’s tough as a hitter to put the ball in play and get good swings on balls.”
With Darvish’s dominant performance, there was no need for more walk-off magic by the Rangers, who had three consecutive walk-off homers going into the game.
The long-ball trend continued, however, beginning with Pierzynski’s solo homer in the second. Moreland led off the third with a homer, and David Murphy had a two-out solo shot in the fourth for a 3-0 lead.
The Rangers pushed it to a 5-0 lead with two more runs in the fourth on a two-run double by Leonys Martin, and added two more unearned runs on a two-run single by Pierzynski in the seventh.
“Our offense has woken up,” manager Ron Washington said. “We knew it was in there, just a matter of it coming out. It’s beginning to be infectious throughout the lineup and when we do that throughout the lineup, that’s when we’re at our best.”