With full acknowledgement that a pitcher’s record is hardly reflective of his talent and performance, Yu Darvish deserved to get the win Saturday night. Not that a no-decision is a foreign concept to a pitcher who’s been tagged with neither win nor loss over his last nine starts. Besides, Darvish certainly cares about such trifles.
But sometimes even a cheap trinket like a W serves as a fitting reminder of time spent at a particularly relaxing destination. Darvish was anything but loose last year with the Cubs, whether it was because his words were being funneled through an interpreter or because “phantom” elbow issues were causing him physical discomfort. The very real mental and physical barriers prevented him from being himself.
This season, however, we have been granted access to the real Yu. Or rather, the media has been granted that access and the rest of us have been able to experience it vicariously. But in spite of the obvious lightness Darvish displayed, something was still weighing him down on the mound.
He was pressing out there and though the stuff was still evident, it was buried beneath layers of muck in the form of poor fastball command and tough luck. His usage likewise added to the mix, whether it was being pulled just as he was finding a groove or being sent back out after he’d clearly emptied the tank.
Many feared that returning to LA, site of his World Series meltdown and a return last season that Darvish called “the worst day of my life,” would huff and puff and blow down his modest straw house of success. But what if stepping back out onto that stage gave him the confidence to finally cast off the anchors he’s been dragging around since 2017?
Watching Darvish carve up the Dodgers, I was reminded of “Harrison Bergeron,” a short story written by Kurt Vonnegut in 1961. Set in a dystopic future in which talent and pleasure have been eliminated by all manner of handicaps, the titular character shakes free from his crippling physical restrictions and realizes the full breadth of his considerable gifts.
The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever borne heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.
Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.
Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.
Harrison’s scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.
Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall.
He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor,
the god of thunder.
If you’ve already read the story to it’s conclusion, you know that my analogy is imperfect at best. The point, however, is not to worry about the climactic appearance of the Handicapper General, but to revel in what Darvish was able to do upon returning to the mound at Chavez Ravine. He said before the game that he no longer bore those old burdens and he then went out and proved it.
“This was really important in my life,” Darvish told reporters afterwards. “I think now I can move forward. I pitched good here.”
If it hadn’t been evident in any of the 108 pitches prior, you could see it when No. 109 sailed past Matt Beaty. The 95.6 mph four-seam fastball, a pitch that has failed Darvish too often this season, had home plate umpire Chris Segal shadow-boxing as he punched the batter out. Darvish cut loose a primal scream on the mound and shrugged off 300 pounds of mental scrap iron like so much tissue paper.
It appeared for a while as though Alex Verdugo’s leadoff homer in 4th would serve as the shotgun blast from Diana Moon Glampers, but Anthony Rizzo saw fit to change the ending. Thus the Cubs have a chance to split with the Dodgers, a consolation almost as worthwhile as Darvish’s undeserved ND.
What matters now isn’t so much the win he didn’t get Saturday night, but what he’s able to do moving forward. Because if he can keep throwing that four-seamer for strikes and tossing that cutter at the fringes of the zone, his story is going to have a much happier ending that the one Vonnegut wrote.