Yu Darvish has chance to silence critics

ARLINGTON, Texas – Sunday is a chance for Yu Darvish to shut up the critics. It’s also his chance to keep the Texas Rangers' season alive.

Darvish can silence those who have questioned his status as an ace in the American League, thanks to his inability to hold leads late in meaningful games the past month. Four times in his last seven starts, the Rangers have given Darvish a lead, only to watch him surrender it back in the opponent’s very next at-bat. It hasn’t helped that the Rangers’ offense has nearly disappeared when Darvish is on the mound. After all, he’s lost four 1-0 games this season.

Is that nit-picking a pitcher that has some of the best numbers in the AL this year? Yep. But that’s the standard that Darvish has set. That’s what comes with the label of “ace.” Darvish is supposed to hold leads, especially as the game progresses. He hasn’t done that consistently.

Now, though, none of that matters. Darvish can erase those memories if he can pitch his team past game No. 162. The playoffs may not have officially started in other cities, but in Arlington, they’ve been chugging along for a week now. And the Rangers don’t look like the same team that started September with a huge thud, dropping them right out of contention in the AL West.

They’re thankful for that additional wild-card slot, giving them something to play for in front of their home fans for the past week. A team that looked as slippery as the baseballs that C.J. Wilson apparently had to pitch with Friday has surged at just the right time.

It’s up to Darvish to make sure that resurrection gives them new life after the regular season. He’s the guy they want on that mound, no matter what’s happened the past month. Will he be feeling the pressure?

“I'd feel a lot of pressure if I got caught cheating on my girlfriend,” Darvish said. “Other than that, no.”

I’m sure he’d like nothing better than to shove a “Quiet Y’all” sign in the face of critics who have questioned him. This is a tremendous opportunity for Darvish, who was squarely in the Cy Young mix a month ago, but whose stock has slipped a bit of late. Darvish was asked last week about his physical condition or any injury concerns, and he brushed them aside.

"Compared to last year, physically, I feel a little bit different," Darvish said. "But nothing, anything in particular that I can comment."

Darvish is immensely talented. He’s got the best slider in the league and the ability to make any hitter look foolish. He’s also got a competitive streak, one that everyone should see Sunday. This is one big reason the Rangers paid more than $100 million to sign him before last year.

“We believe in Yu Darvish,” manager Ron Washington said. “We want him to go out and keep us in the ball game. Hopefully when we can support him, we do that.”

Darvish is supposed to be the guy that gets the ball in these critical games. He’ll get the opportunity to make sure the Rangers are playing another game in 2013. And to hear nothing but crickets from his critics.