Yu Darvish dominant again as Cubs take series opener over Cardinals
If 2020 ends with Yu Darvish hoisting the Cy Young Award, Friday’s dominance will be remembered as one of the defining performances that sealed the prestigious award for the Japanese hurler.
Darvish was excellent, as he has been almost all season. He carried a perfect game through 5 innings, struck out 11 and allowed just 1 run and 1 hit, a solo home run to Matt Carpenter, in 7 innings as the Cubs beat the Cardinals 4-1.
“It was funny, that popped into my head when he came out, I was like, ‘I don’t know what else to say about this guy,’” David Ross said. “The way he commands the strike zone with his secondary is some of the best I’ve ever seen. He can really do it.”
It was the only blemish that stood between him and baseball lore. But truth be told, the way he’s pitching, the year might end with an award that’s a better reflection of overall dominance than any outing.
And in a way, that home run allowed him to center himself and relax a bit the rest of the way.
“I knew I’m doing a perfect game from like the 4th inning, but at the same time, I knew somebody [would] break the perfect game or no-hitter,” Darvish said. “When he hit the home run, then, that could [allow me to] focus more on [the] next guy.”
Darvish’s brilliance, coupled with some timely hitting by Willson Contreras, who drove in 4, helped spark the Cubs to a crucial win over the Cardinals as the NL Central race heats up heading into the home stretch of this abbreviated season.
The Cubs and Cardinals play each other four more times this weekend. A series win over the rival Redbirds could give them a seemingly insurmountable lead in the division race in their final matchup of the season.
The Cubs offense played a big role in the win, but it might’ve helped its cause for the remainder of the series with its patience, a strong suit all season, regardless of whether they win or lose. They wore down the Cardinals’ ace, Jack Flaherty, forcing him to throw 43 pitches in the 1st inning and knocking him out of the game after just 2.2 innings pitched and throwing 69 pitches.
The patience was exemplified by Contreras in the 1st inning.
With the bases loaded and 2 outs, Contreras worked a favorable 3-0 count, took a strike and then fouled off 4 straight pitches before hitting a line drive single to center to score Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
Contreras worked a 5-pitch at-bat in his next appearance in the 3rd before grounding a single to right that scored Javy Báez.
It was a successful night for Contreras, who struggled against Flaherty last year, going 3-for-15 with 7 strikeouts.
“Obviously, we have a history,” Contreras said. “Last year he did really good against me and today was completely different. I think my mindset changed from trying to do too much to keep it simple and it worked.”
That forced the Cardinals to turn to their bullpen much earlier than they would have hoped, especially with the plethora of games and innings they’ll have to handle over the remainder of the weekend. The Cardinals used Jake Woodford for 3 innings, Tyler Webb for 1 inning and Alex Reyes for 1.1 innings.
Contreras continued his stellar offensive outing with a 108.2 mph rocket to left center field in the 6th inning that gave the Cubs back a 3-run lead after Carpenter’s home run.
- Ian Happ met with doctors Friday, a day after a foul ball ricocheted off the ground and then off his face, just above his eye. Ross has erred on the side of caution when it comes to injury and Happ’s is no different. He left Happ out of the lineup, but said if he was feeling better and needed, he would have made a pinch hit appearance.
“I think he’s day-to-day,” Ross said. “The eye is still coming back. I think it’s gonna be fine. With everything he’s gone through today, I just don’t think it’s smart to start him. I talked to him this morning and I just think it’s best if we give it a little bit more time.”
- Ross has tried to avoid bullpen days. But with the calendar building up and injuries piling, it forced his hand to that.
While Adbert Alzolay will start game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader, he said game 2 will be a bullpen day.
- Ross was very straightforward when he explained why he chose to have Kyle Schwarber leadoff.
“All the success he’s had in that spot,” Ross said.
After a moment, though, he broke his serious face and let out a laugh.
“No, I’m just kidding,” Ross said. “I like Schwarbs. He’s been one of our best hitters. I love his at-bats, I love him at the top. He’s gonna set the tone for us tonight with Happer out and I have a ton of confidence in him.”
Schwarber set the tone for the offense in the 1st inning. While he struck out to lead off, he worked a 7-pitch at-bat, setting the rhythm for how the Cubs would work the Cardinals’ ace.