Darvish grinds his way to key victory

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This was a night during which Yu Darvish was in survival mode.

Forty pitches in the first inning. Six walks. A hit batter. A blown lead in the first inning.

And at the end of the night -- Darvish's first win in seven starts -- was an 8-2 pasting of the Tampa Bay Rays, coming after 1-0 losses to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland A's in his previous two outings.

There's no explaining this stuff. Darvish doesn't have close to his best stuff and gets a win in a very pivotal game to help the Rangers pull even with Tampa Bay for the top wild-card spot, a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Indians.

Darvish struggled with his command, didn't get some close calls on pitches down in the strike zone and lasted only five innings. It was only the fourth time in 30 starts he has failed to complete six innings.

But he got run support and made pitches when he needed them. Darvish had received two runs or less before exiting each of his prior seven starts, a total of 10 runs. The Rangers scored six runs -- helped by three homers -- by the time he left Thursday's game with a 6-2 lead.

"I didn't have many of my pitches, fastballs or breaking balls," Darvish said. "But somehow, I made it through five innings and kept the game close."

Darvish is still using a poor start in Oakland at the beginning of the month as motivation. He lost 11-4 on Sept. 4 as he had six walks, lost his composure on the mound and allowed the A's to pull even with the Rangers in the American League West standings (Oakland has since taken a 6½-game lead in the division).

Darvish was able to calm himself Thursday night with the help of a mound visit from Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus before one of his double-play balls and a visit from pitching coach Mike Maddux before another one.

Both times, there were runners at first and second with one out. Both times, Darvish got a ground ball to the middle of the infield for a tailor-made double play.

"We were basically telling him to try to go out there and look for the contact," Andrus said. "We know the way he pitches. In that moment, we're thinking the same thing. We're feeling he needs to try to go out there and throw a fastball down so we can get a double play. He understands that and made a great pitch, and that's what we got."

Darvish was also helped by catcher Geovany Soto, who caught the Rangers ace for the third straight game since the poor start in Oakland. Soto was able to soothe Darvish through the first inning, when he allowed three walks, a hit batter and a double but gave up only two runs. He didn't get a shutdown inning, but he did keep the game close.

Soto helped keep it at 2-1 Rays in the bottom of the second. Tampa Bay's Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist both tried to steal second in the inning. Soto threw them both out.

The Rangers scored three runs in the top of the third on solo home runs by Mitch Moreland, Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios.

"If he didn't know what it means around here saying grind, he knows what it is now," manager Ron Washington said of Darvish. "Tonight, that's something he has to do. He was very effective, wildly, but when he had to make a pitch, he made one, and I was happy to get him through five innings."