Miller: Yu Darvish’s Dodger Stadium debut takes one pitch to go slightly sideways
LOS ANGELES — They’ve already provided so many moments, memories and nights that the Dodgers owe their fans nothing.
Nothing, at least, until October, when they owe their fans the same thing they owe themselves – a World Series run that cements their place in baseball forever.
Still, on Wednesday, this team that simply refuses to disappoint provided more anyway, the Dodgers gifting their fans a potential second ace, one whose greater contribution remains down the road.
And then, naturally, they topped the package with another absurd come-from-behind, final-at-bat victory, one that left Manager Dave Roberts muttering, “This is ridiculous.”
Yu Darvish made his home debut, a very real step toward October, a few hours after Clayton Kershaw made a simulated stride forward.
Kershaw, rebounding from a back issue, threw 38 pitches under game-like conditions in an empty stadium – an exercise the Dodgers deemed a success – before Darvish climbed the same mound in front of what eventually would be a sellout.
As for Darvish’s effort, it wasn’t a failure, not all, the right-hander allowing three runs in six innings in a game the Dodgers won, 5-4, over the White Sox.
The lasting feeling and overall mood, however, were slightly more tempered, especially after Darvish was pulled before throwing a pitch in the seventh because of tightness in his back.
Roberts said the move was “more precaution” than anything and assured that Darvish would make his next start. Still, any potential injury to any potential contributor at this time of year is worth watching.
“There’s going to be a lot of energy,” Roberts predicted before the game. “He’s excited about it. The radar gun readings will be lighting up.”
Sure enough, Darvish’s first pitch produced a shocking number: 105. But that was the exit velocity of the ball Leury Garcia clanged off the right-field foul pole.
One fastball. One swing. 1-0, Chicago.
Yu-hoo, Dodgers fans? Yu, who? answered the visiting team.
“It’s one game, and it’s a regular-season game,” Roberts said before that opening pitch became a departing shot. “But I think that to make his first start at home … it’s something as a kid in Japan, dreaming about playing for the Dodgers. … This is something that he envisioned.”
Well, maybe not exactly this, Darvish falling behind so quickly that Dodger Stadium seemed to briefly freeze, as if genuinely stunned, allowing the sound of the ball smacking the pole to be easily audible all the way in the press box.
Before Wednesday, Darvish had become only the fourth player since 1900 to strike out 10-plus hitters in his first two starts with a team.
Suddenly, his limited Dodgers tenure was all about the one bat his pitches didn’t miss.
Soon enough, there would be the two other bats that notably dampened the occasion of the pitcher’s 31st birthday.
Acquired from Texas in a buzzer-beating deal at the trade deadline, Darvish’s opening two Dodgers starts came on the road.
He was utterly brilliant in New York against the Mets and largely adequate in Arizona against the Diamondbacks.
Of course, the 2017 Dodgers being the 2017 Dodgers, they won both, giving Darvish the lead in each game before he even threw his first pitch.
It’s one thing for your teammates to have your back. But these Dodgers, they appear to have each other’s back and front and every other angle of the body that’s anatomically possible.
Two weeks ago, their starting pitcher gave up three first-inning homers and they still won. On Tuesday – just like with Darvish a day later – their starting pitcher gave up a homer on the first pitch and they still won, too.
The success of this team has escalated to the point where every Dodgers game is now a happening, even when they aren’t unveiling a pitcher so coveted that the Rangers paid Darvish’s former team in Japan $51 million just for the right to sign him for $56 million more.
“We expect him to go out there and compete and make pitches,” Roberts said before the game. “He’s been on the big stage. But I think that for him, for his teammates, the coaches, we’re excited for him.”
The Dodgers sure acted that way.
Minutes before the first pitch, the team’s cleanup hitter for the night was hanging upside-down in the dugout, his legs wrapped around a railing before flipping backward and – sort of – landing on his feet.
Kike’ Hernandez then bounced around in the manner of a puppy, one highly caffeinated on Starbucks.
A short time later, he conveyed that energy into a fourth-inning solo homer that tied the score, 2-2, Darvish having surrendered a second home run, this one to Nicky Delmonico.
In the sixth, the White Sox hit a third homer, Jose Abreu’s drive making it 1,152 total feet of angst for Darvish on this night.
But Darvish’s presence around here isn’t about August or the White Sox or three home runs surrendered to hitters playing for nothing but pride.
It is, no question, about October, when the Dodgers and their fans will find out just how much this gift gives back.
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