Defining Dozen: Yu Darvish almost perfect

Editor's Note: This is the seventh 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. 6: Yu Darvish's near-perfect game.

When the 2013 season began, it was time for the baseball world to see what Yu Darvish had learned after his first year in the big leagues. He came over from Japan with plenty of fanfare as his every move was chronicled in 2012. And after making some adjustments and learning from his mistakes in the first part of the year, Darvish finished with a flourish. He was one of the top pitchers in the game in the final two months of 2012 and went into the offseason with some momentum.

His first start of the 2013 season was in Houston against the Astros in the second game of the year for Rangers. And right away, it was clear Darvish had all of his pitches working. His fastball was electric and his slider, a pitch that Nolan Ryan said is Darvish's best and one of the best in the game, was flummoxing Astros' batters. But Darvish could throw whatever he wanted. He had the slow curve and the harder curve. He changed speeds. And he got plenty of swings and misses.

Darvish just kept rolling through the Houston lineup. He had 14 strikeouts, setting a career-high. And 12 of those came on that devastating slider. He struck out the side twice (in the second and fourth innings). Until the ninth, the only stressful moment came in the eighth inning, when Darvish ended up in a full count against Chris Carter (only his fourth of the game). After Carter fouled off three pitches, he struck out.

In the ninth, with everybody around baseball watching -- and Darvish trending on Twitter, of course -- Jason Castro grounded out to short and Carlos Corporan bounced out to second. That brought up Marwin Gonzalez, the No. 9 hitter, with history on the line. Darvish was one out from becoming the 24th pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game. He was also one out away from throwing the second perfect game in Rangers, 19 years after Kenny Rogers did it at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

But Gonzalez hit a first-pitch fastball through Darvish's legs and into center field to break up the perfect game and no-hitter. Darvish, who threw 111 pitches, was immediately removed since it was his first start of the season and the Rangers didn't want to tax his arm. So Darvish ended up with a one-hitter in a 7-0 Rangers win.

Darvish was disappointed after the game, but still happy with the effort.

"I went as far as I could go, and that was satisfying," Darvish said through interpreter Kenji Nimura.

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski said after the game that Darvish threw seven different pitches and showed great command. And Pierzynski thought he was going to catch another perfect game. He also caught Philip Humber's perfect game with the Chicago White Sox in 2012.

"You get to that point, and you think it's going to happen," Pierzynski said. "It just wasn't meant to be."