HOUSTON -- Yu Darvish nearly pitched the perfect game heard round the world Tuesday night.
Darvish just missed the 24th perfect game in major league history, getting within an out of perfection before Houston Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez lined a single through the Ranger pitcher's legs into center field.
Darvish was pulled after facing his 27th batter, and reliever Michael Kirkman ended up getting the final out as the Rangers settled for a one-hitter and a 7-0 victory before 22,673 fans at Minute Maid Park.
It's the 11th perfect game spoiled by the 27th hitter in major league history. It would have been the sixth no-hitter in Rangers' history and the second perfect game.
Darvish induced two ground ball outs to start the bottom of the ninth, and a ballpark half-filled with Rangers fans waited with anticipation that he would finish it off. But Darvish hung a cutter -- he threw all cutters in the ninth inning -- and Gonzalez came up with a clean single.
"You get to that point, and you think it's going to happen," Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who caught Philip Humber's perfect game with the Chicago White Sox last season, said. "It just wasn't meant to be."
As Darvish retired the first 15 batters he faced, Major League Baseball announced on Twitter that the Japanese pitcher was trending worldwide.
Darvish was shaking his head in disappointment in the visitor's clubhouse minutes after the game, but he was proud of himself as he talked in his postgame news conference.
"I went as far as I could go, and that was satisfying," Darvish said.
It had been 19 years since the only time a Rangers pitcher found perfection. Kenny Rogers tossed a perfect game on July 28, 1994, in a 4-0 victory over the California Angels. Darvish came oh-so-close to moving into the history books with Rogers.
Darvish befuddled the Astros with his array of pitches. He threw seven different pitches, Pierzynski said, with his slider and fastball the overwhelming pitches of the night.
"He had them all going," Pierzynski said.
Darvish set his career high in strikeouts with 14. He struck out the side twice, in the second inning and fourth. He had struck out 11 in a game four times, all last season as a rookie.
Darvish had an electric fastball, but it was his slider that totally confused Astros hitters. Of his 14 strikeouts, 12 of them were on sliders, 10 swinging and two looking. Darvish went to a full count four times and to a three-ball count five times overall.
Darvish had a tense moment to start the bottom of the eighth inning when Astros left fielder Chris Carter worked the count full. Carter fouled off three pitches, then swung through another nasty slider from Darvish.
Then came the dramatic bottom of the ninth. Elvis Andrus had to go to his right on a grounder that took a strange hop, then easily threw out Jason Castro for the first out of the inning. Carlos Corporan then grounded out weakly to second. That brought up Gonzalez, who had struck out and grounded out to first.
Gonzalez was looking for a fastball away, he said after the game. He got one that Pierzynski said sunk down instead of cutting.
“The first two batters, J.C. and Corporan, he threw a fastball away the first pitch to them, and I realized he was going to throw it to me, too, and I was waiting on the pitch,” Gonzalez said.
Rangers manager Ron Washington hopped up out of the dugout and came immediately to take Darvish out of the game with his ace at 111 pitches in his first start of the season.
Washington said after the game that Gonzalez was the final batter Darvish was going to face, even if he walked him and the no-hitter was still going.
"When the ball got through, my hole thought process was that when he gave up a hit or a walk I was going to get him out of there," Washington said.
Darvish held onto a 1-0 lead for the first six innings. The Rangers took their first lead of the season on an RBI single by ex-Astro Lance Berkman in the top of the third. Craig Gentry ignited the rally with the Rangers' first extra-base hit, a double down the right-field line.
Ian Kinsler gave Darvish a cushion with a two-run home run off the left-field foul pole with one out in the top of the seventh for a 3-0 lead. Gentry got on in front of Kinsler with a triple to right-center field.
The Rangers added two more runs in the top of the eighth on an RBI double by Nelson Cruz and a sacrifice fly by Moreland for a 5-0 lead. And they scored twice more in the top of the ninth -- the highlight being an Andrus RBI triple, for a 7-0 lead.
Darvish was the last Ranger on the field to start the ninth inning. He was calm as always.
"He was the same," Pierzynski said. "He never really changes. He did everything the same. It's not like he runs around giving guys high fives any time. He had great stuff.
"I'm disappointed for him. I'm disappointed for the team. I'm disappointed for the people that were there to get that close and not happen. The guy just could have rolled the ball over, but he didn't."
Andrus was hoping to get a chance at making a spectacular play on Gonzalez's single, hoping that Darvish would deflect the ball as it went through his legs.
"He hit it pretty hard," Andrus said. "I was praying it would hit Yu's glove."
It was a bittersweet moment for many of the Rangers, especially those who twice came within a strike of winning the 2011 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"I was definitely thinking about what the celebration was going to be like," Kinsler said. "We never take any out for granted in baseball. If any team's not going to take an out for granted, it's probably us."