Defining Dozen: Darvish struggles vs. A's

Editor's Note: This is the second of a 12-part series titled "Defining Dozen," which looks at the 12 moments that impacted the 2013 season the most. We will count down from 12 to 1. The moments will include highs and lows for the Texas Rangers from a season that lasted until Game 163.

Moment No. 11: Yu Darvish struggles against A's, raising questions about "ace" label.

The Rangers' division title hopes took a significant blow on a Wednesday afternoon in early September in Oakland with Yu Darvish on the mound. Texas was routed 11-4 by the A's that day.

It created a firestorm of questions about whether Darvish, in his second season in the big leagues, truly is ace material (a ridiculous notion, but one that was put out there).

Let's look back.

The Rangers held a one-game lead in the American League West after splitting the first two games of a three-game series against Oakland. That set up a Wednesday afternoon showdown on Sept. 4 between Darvish and A's rising young star right-hander Jarrod Parker.

The day was a disaster for Darvish. He gave up a two-run home run in the first inning to Brandon Moss after a two-out walk, immediately putting the Rangers behind 2-0. He walked two more A's in the second and allowed another run as the Rangers fell behind 3-0. Darvish gave up another two-run home run to Daric Barton -- his third long ball in 130 games -- in the bottom of the sixth, and the rout was on.

Darvish's final line was very un-Darvish like. He walked a season-high six batters. He matched a season with five runs allowed. Darvish, who led the majors in strikeouts, fanned only four A's, equaling a season low. He lasted five innings, his shortest start of the season.

And there was more. Darvish walked away from pitching coach Mike Maddux during one mound visit. Darvish and starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski also had a heated exchange at one point. Pierzynski came out toward the mound and Darvish appeared to wave him away in frustration.

Darvish said after the game that he had no problems with Pierzynski. The Rangers didn't take any chances with Darvish's psyche. Geovany Soto, not Pierzynski, caught the rest of the Darvish's starts.

"When you're competing, you can't put a certain feeling on something you see out there," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of the Darvish-Pierzynski exchange after what was the biggest loss of the season to that point. "People are competing. I thought nothing of it myself."

The bigger deal was the AL West race was even. The Rangers talked boldly at the time, but they were on their way to being done in the division.

"We lost two out of three. We're even," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said after the game. "There are [23] games left, and we need to win one more than they win. There's nothing really more to make of the series. They beat us two out of three. We play them again at our place. There are a lot of games in between."

The Rangers followed that Wednesday loss in Oakland by losing nine of 10 games and basically losing the division title, falling 6 1/2 games behind the surging A's with 13 games left.

Darvish's struggles against the Rangers' current main division rival continued. At least from a losing standpoint. Darvish allowed a run in seven innings -- this time opposing Bartolo Colon -- 10 days later on Sept. 14 in Arlington. Darvish was ace-like with 10 strikeouts and one walk, but a first-inning run was too much for the Rangers to overcome.

It was Darvish's second consecutive 1-0 loss and record-setting fourth of the season, and still the ace questions came up. Darvish is 1-6 with a 4.30 ERA in seven lifetime starts against the A's.

Fair or not, it leaves some questions for Darvish to answer about being an ace in 2014.