Elvis Andrus says he prayed for this — to play the Blue Jays — because he knows this is his shot at redemption.
This playoff series against the Blue Jays might be about Elvis’ redemption, but these playoffs — for the Rangers — are about Yu Darvish.
Although the Rangers invested more than $100 million in Yu to be their unquestioned No. 1, he was named his team’s No. 2 playoff starter Wednesday behind Cole Hamels.
Only because of luck, not to mention Ray Davis’ pocketbook and a horrible Philadelphia Phillies team, Yu doesn’t need to be that celeb ace because that job rightfully belongs to Mr. Hamels.
Make no mistake, kids, if Yu Darvish is ever going to prove he’s as good as we think he is — because he is — it begins with his Game 2 start Friday against the Blue Jays.
“The postseason is where you discover a lot about individuals,” Hamels said. “That’s where you are made. That’s where you get noticed.”
Darvish is healed, he is right, and it’s time for Yu to get noticed in October for the right reasons.
With a 46-30 record, a 3.29 ERA and 812 strikeouts in 100 career starts, no one can say Yu has been anything other than successful as a Ranger. He’s been an All-Star, he has struck out seemingly every active batter in baseball, and at times he has been overpowering.
“We have seen what he is capable of doing,” Rangers outfielder Carlos Beltran said. “He has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in the game.”
This was not a slight from a teammate, but the truth — potential. Darvish is one of the more talented right-handers in the game. He has earned his All-Star invites. There is, however, more there. Beginning Friday, he needs to unleash the hounds.
What he has not done is win a big game by himself when all of baseball is watching. That’s what an ace does; he throws eight innings of shutout baseball against a top lineup. He makes one run stand up for a win.
He does what Cole Hamels did for the Phillies during the 2008 World Series when he was named the MVP.
This isn’t entirely Yu’s fault, but he’s made only one postseason start. In 2012, Darvish took the loss in the Rangers’ one-game wild card against the Orioles that ended the former’s season. He allowed two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings and was victimized by an offense that scored only once.
Now four years later, at a minimum, Yu must be Hamels’ equal for the Rangers to finish what they never have before in the history of their franchise.
While no one should expect the duo of Hamels and Darvish to replicate the Diamondbacks’ combination of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling from their 2001 World Series, they need to be the best 1-2 in the American League. They need to give the bullpen a rest, and they need to demoralize the other team.
Both the Rangers, and their fans, have been waiting for Yu to have this exact stage since he signed with the club for $60 million; this was after the team paid a $50 million posting bid to secure his rights from his Japanese team in 2012.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister said Wednesday Yu is up to the necessary level after he had Tommy John surgery in 2015.
“We have been conservative, to some degree,” said Banister, who in Yu’s 17 starts this season has allowed him to throw more than 100 pitches but three times. “He’s comfortable with how he feels in his last couple of outings. We are in a good place to allow him to go where we need him to go.”
Andrus insists this is the best he’s seen Yu pitch since he arrived; that he is pitching to contact more, and trusting the players behind him. That he doesn’t feel the need to strike out every single hitter.
Yu is 30 and he has one year remaining on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Beginning Friday, he has this October and next season to prove that not only is he a good pitcher, but that he is worthy of the expectations his talents warrant.
It will be his last shot at a bank-crushing contract; the best way to land that deal is if he does what he has never done before as a Ranger — win a big game by himself and make one run stand when everybody is watching.
We know Darvish can strike out the world and, this October, he has to show the world there is more there.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.