[Editor’s Note: This column was originally published in the Brenham Banner-Press on April 3, 2013.]
It was painstaking to see Marwin Gonzalez get that hit Tuesday night.
You know, the one that broke up Texas Ranger Yu Darvish’s perfect game. The one that came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The one after Darvish had retired the previous 26 batters.
It was history. It was fate. It was everything Rangers fans had been hoping Darvish would be, what he could do. It was … what the heck just happened?
Leave it to the Houston Astros to not even know how to close out a perfect game.
And who is this Gonzalez guy anyway?
Oh, right. He’s the 24-year-old dude who batted .234 for the Astros as a rookie last season, who had only 24 hits in 80 games. He’s the Astros’ No. 9 hitter in the lineup. He’s the guy who’s on a one-year contract making $494,000 this season.
What the…? Yu have to be kidding me.
Darvish had destroyed the Astros lineup for 8 2-3 solid innings. He used his deadly slider and breaking pitches to make the Astros look every bit like their $26 million payroll. He had the Astros batters swing at balls that were bouncing in the dirt — that Ranger cather A.J. Pierzynski had trouble catching — for strikeouts.
By the fifth inning, Darvish already had 10 strikeouts. He was doing what an ace is supposed to do to a team that batted .236 the previous season.
It was history. It was fate.
It couldn’t have been anymore obvious than the moment Darvish retired the first two batters of the ninth on three pitches: two routine ground balls, one to Elvis Andrus at shortstop, one to Ian Kinsler at second base.
“You look at the stuff he was featuring tonight and it wouldn’t have surprised anyone in the ballpark if he had thrown a perfect game or no-hitter,” Houston manager Bo Porter said, who’s in his first season with the team.
After the game, Porter said it was more of Darvish’s dominance on the mound than anything the Astros were doing at the plate. He added that the next time Houston faces Darvish, the team will have made plenty of adjustments.
So when Gonzalez came up in the bottom of the ninth, there never seemed to be much doubt that Darvish, the pitcher the Rangers paid $51.7 million for just to negotiate a contract from Japan, would get the final out.
He was mere inch away.
Gonzalez swung at a first-pitch fastball up the middle that split Darvish’s legs and just missed his glove. Darvish slowly walked off the mound, following the ball to the outfield with a look of disbelief.
Rangers manager Ron Washington was quick to relieve Darvish, who had thrown 111 pitches to that point.
Props must be given to Gonzalez there: he placed a ball that the defense had no chance on. Even with a diving Andrus from shortstop was 10 feet away.
Still, so painstaking.
Then again, as Washington has always said: “That’s the way baseball go.”