The moment the Texas Rangers and their fans have anticipated since December 2011 will arrive Friday night, barring one of those unexplained neck issues that seems to pop up from time to time:
Yu Darvish will start a World Series game.
In the state of Texas, no less.
Of course, the gray jersey he will be wearing will say “Los Angeles” across the front instead of “Texas,” and the most important start of his career will be at Minute Maid Park instead of Globe Life Park.
Stings a little, doesn’t it?
Even he feels a tinge of disappointment that the start didn’t happen with the team that lured him away from Japan and pinned their hopes upon.
“Of course,” Darvish said Thursday night. “When I was with the Rangers, that was the goal.”
But it didn’t happen.
The closest he came was a three-game division series sweep in 2016 to the Toronto Blue Jays, who knocked off the top-seeded Rangers. There was the disappointment of 2012, when the bottom fell out over the final nine games of his rookie season and he was the losing pitcher in the first-ever wild-card game.
This season was no joy ride, as the Rangers spun their tires for the first four months and put general manager Jon Daniels in the position to where he felt he had to trade Darvish rather than keep him around for a playoff charge.
The Rangers lost 10 of Darvish’s final 12 starts, including a 10-run tip-pitching fiasco in his finale.
Daniels and Darvish parted ways open-minded about a reunion after the season. Perhaps those were empty words like when a couple splits and says they still want to remain friends.
Then again, Darvish, according to the media members in Japan who continue to follow his every baseball move, has been chummy with ex-Rangers he has come across, like Ian Desmond and Sam Dyson.
Darvish’s home, until a new contract dictates otherwise, remains in Dallas.
He has nothing but the kindest of words for his former Rangers pitching coaches.
Maybe he’s homesick. Or maybe not.
The Dodgers, after all, relayed information to him before his first start for them that they believed would make him better. Fewer pitches. A mechanical tweak. Pitch the same way as when he had his most success.
Now, he’s about to take the biggest stage of his career and is on the verge of a contract that will, in theory, be the last of his career. The Dodgers are the front-runners, loaded with money and the plan that has Darvish in his happy place.
Plus, he apparently likes LA.
There will be other suitors, to be sure. The Rangers will make phone calls and keep in touch, but are also aware that each successful postseason start sends Darvish’s free-agent price tag soaring. The turned-out pockets of the billionaire owners seemingly will prevent any reunion.
History says Darvish will pitch well Friday. Darvish is 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA in his career at Houston, against the worst Astros teams in history and some of their best. One of two wins over his final 12 Rangers starts came here June 10, when he held the Astros to one run on one hit (with three walks) in seven innings.
The Astros have seen on video that he isn’t the same pitcher he was during his time with the Rangers, but they also aren’t relying on much from their past against him. Not this time of year.
“There is more unpredictability around game plans and approaches in the postseason than ever,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “You can go in saying this is how he’s thrown you in the past, and he can pitch you completely differently. Tomorrow’s going to be a big start for him. I know he’ll be at his best.”
It’s the moment he and the Rangers have been anticipating for years.
“I feel like physically I’m ready,” Darvish said earlier this week. “I had good preparation between outings, so I’m ready to go.”
World Series Game 3
L.A. Dodgers at Houston Astros
7 p.m. Friday, KDFW/4