The best example of the confounding mound presence that is Yu Darvish presented itself in the fourth inning Monday night when the Japanese juggernaut was staring down Jose Bautista, the game's top power hitter the past two seasons.
The first pitch was a tight, 79-mile-an-hour curveball that the Toronto Blue Jays' slugger didn't even bother with for a called strike.
The second, also a called strike, was a 93-mile-an-hour cutter that caught the outside corner and sent the frustrated Bautista twisting out of the batter's box in a pique of anger, a reaction that is becoming far too common this season.
Now thoroughly messed up, Bautista had no chance on the third pitch – another cutter that Darvish dialled down to about 87-miles-an-hour that the Toronto batter was way out in front of with his swing for the strikeout.
It was like that for most of the night for Darvish, who performed pretty much as advertised, leading the opportunistic Texas Rangers (17-6) to 4-1 victory over Toronto (12-11) before 21,945 at Rogers Centre.
Displaying an array of both power and off-speed pitches while constantly altering his speed, the Blue Jays' hitters were flummoxed for most of the night by Darvish, who improved to 4-0 with the victory.
Darvish was dominant, striking out seven of the first 12 batters he faced, giving up just four Toronto hits and one run over seven innings of work.
He also struck out nine giving him 19 in his last two outings after fanning 10 in his previous game on Tuesday during a 2-0 win over the New York Yankees.
Darvish has been baseball's darling this season since the Rangers, for a reported $51.7-million (all figures U.S.), won the right to negotiate a contract with the Japanese star in the off-season.
And for that, the Rangers somehow managed to persuade the 25-year-old to sign on the dotted line – a six-year, $60-million deal to ply his natural talents in North America.
The biggest adjustment for Darvish, observed Texas manager Ron Washington before the game, has been to get to know the MLB hitters.
“They're different type of hitters over here than what you face in Japan,” he said. “You make mistakes over here and they leave the ballpark. You might make some mistakes in Japan and they end up being singles.”
Darvish hasn't made many mistakes so far this season.
In his first four outings, Darvish had not surrendered a home run.
That was one streak that came to an end on Monday when Edwin Encarnacion continued his red-hot hitting, belting a Darvish offering deep into left field, a solo shot in the fourth inning that cut the Texas lead to 2-1.
For Encarnacion, it was the fourth straight game he has stroked a home run, the second time in his career with the Blue Jays he has done so.
Encarnacion now has hit seven homers on the season.
Kyle Drabek, the Toronto starter, wasn't too shabby in his own right, striking out a career-high eight batters – at one time fanning five in a row.
Drabek (2-2) lasted six innings, allowing two Texas runs off five hits.
The Rangers, who came into the game tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in baseball, were minus their star in outfielder Josh Hamilton, who was given the night off to rest a wonky back.
With Drabek out, the game got away from Toronto in the seventh inning with rookie reliever Evan Crawford on the mound.
Crawford surrendered back-to-back home runs off the bats of Mitch Moreland and then Craig Gentry – the eighth-and-ninth Texas hitters in the batting over – that brought the score to 4-1.
Darvish the difference
It wasn’t that the Blue Jays played that poorly.
It was more that Yu Darvish was so dominant that it couldn’t help but tip the game in favour of the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre on Monday night.
“Just an outstanding pitched game by Darvish and their bullpen tonight,” Toronto manager John Farrell said after the Rangers beat Toronto 4-1 in the first of a three-game American League set.
“I thought Kyle threw the ball very well for us, seemed to get stronger as the game wore on until I felt like his pitch count, it was time to remove him from the game.”
Kyle is Kyle Drabek, the young Toronto starter who recorded a career-high with eight strikeout over six innings of work.
Drabek only allowed two of the Texas runs off five hits but his performance was overshadowed by that of Darvish, who totaled nine strikeouts over seven innings.
“Pretty good,” Drabek said, when asked to assess his night’s work. “I thought I was able to command my fastball a lot better than the last two outings. And I had my cutter working, that was probably my best pitch for me tonight.
“Some hard hit balls, a lot of them were hit hard. But I’m happy with where my fastball command is at.”
“We had a couple of opportunities against Darvish, but it seemed like he could get a strikeout when needed to shut an inning off,” Farrell added.
Edwin Encarnacion was the only Blue Jay to have some luck against Darvish – the only Blue Jays to collect at least two hits, including a solo home run shot in the fourth inning.
In total, Toronto was outhit by Texas 10-4.
“All in all he’s got good stuff,” said Toronto second baseman Kelly Johnson, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. “We knew that. We knew he had good stuff. You’ve got to tip your cap. At the same time we got to get better, we got to hit the ball, we got to have better at bats, we need to get guys on base.
“He did enough to keep you off balance. Curve ball’s part of that. Obviously having good life on his fastball, that kind of starts all the rest of it.”