With personal success achieved, new Cub Yu Darvish is chasing just one thing
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MESA, Ariz. — The question was right down the middle with no movement, a pitch begging to be knocked out of the ballpark.
What is Yu Darvish’s main goal this season?
‘‘To win the World Series as a Cub,’’ he said Tuesday, already rounding second base.
Before we dismiss the question and the answer as typical fare at an introductory news conference, it helps to understand where Darvish has been, where the Cubs are and where both want to be very soon.
Good players want to play for the Cubs. This is a destination team if the destination a person seeks is the World Series. That’s not to say a title this season is a given, not in a sport given to bad bounces, odd managerial decisions and other strange occurrences. But the Cubs have been to the National League Championship Series in three consecutive seasons, won the World Series in 2016 and were one of the teams to beat in 2018 even before Darvish agreed to a six-year, $126 million contract last weekend.
‘‘We’re getting him at a wonderful point in his career where he’s really matured and is ready to go out and do some special things, winning a World Series being his top priority,’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein said.
Darvish surely wanted to win a championship in his past stops with the Rangers and Dodgers. But he had other goals, other stresses, other considerations. He had things to prove and things to carry, not the least of which were the hopes of an entire country.
‘‘Coming over from Japan, there was a lot of pressure on him to be successful as an individual,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘It was important for him to prove that he was worthy of the posting number that he got [$51.7 million] and representing his country coming over here. It was important that he put up numbers and be a success. I think he felt that burden quite a bit and went out and performed and did really well.’’
He finished second in American League Cy Young voting in 2013. He has been an All-Star four times. But now he’s in a different place. Now the man with six pitches has only one thing tugging at his sleeve, especially after performing poorly in the World Series for the Dodgers last season.
‘‘Feeling the disappointment of the World Series, I think it just refocused him on what’s important in this game,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘He’s dedicating himself to winning a World Series. Maybe more than anyone else out there, he wants to get back on that stage and come through. I think we’re a great place to have that happen.’’
The Cubs think they have a 31-year-old pitcher who has had personal success and now wants to be part of something bigger than himself.
‘‘I’m sure the Cubs have something that both the Rangers and the Dodgers do not have, so I’d like to take away, learn everything I can from this Cubs team,’’ Darvish said through an interpreter.
He does not have a personal catcher, and if anyone thought that the Cubs’ signing of former Rangers teammate Chris Gimenez — a catcher — was going to lure him to Chicago, they were misguided.
‘‘I like [Willson] Contreras better,’’ Darvish said, smiling.
Exactly. He wants to win. He wants to win with a talented young catcher, and he wants to win with a loaded roster.
But the Contreras comment also spoke to Darvish’s comfort level after six years in the United States. He’s more willing to show his sense of humor now, something he did on Twitter the last few months.
He usually goes back to Japan during the offseason, but he spent this one in the United States. It reinforces the idea that his focus is changing as he gets older.
The Cubs are more than a little excited about Darvish’s pitching ability. Let Epstein count the ways:
• ‘‘I think statistically he’s the best strikeout pitcher of all time.’’
• ‘‘He can do some really unique things with the baseball — his ability to spin the heck out of it and control his spin and shape his breaking balls different ways.’’
• ‘‘He’s got as deep an arsenal as any power pitcher in the game.’’
Darvish is also three years removed from Tommy John surgery. Injury concerns are part of the equation whenever a pitcher goes through that procedure. The Cubs were willing to roll the dice with a six-year deal.
Darvish is ready to roll with his new team.
‘‘My priority in selecting a team was a team that had a great chance of winning the World Series,’’ he said. ‘‘The Cubs obviously have more than a great chance of winning. So I’m really honored to be here.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.