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Balk? Yu Darvish unravels in Wrigley Field debut with Cubs in 4-0 loss to Braves

Did Yu Darvish balk on a 2-2 pitch to Freddie Freeman? Or didn’t he?

Umpire Bruce Dreckman said he did. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he did not. Darvish said he did not. Even Freeman said he did not.

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But whether the call was right, one undeniable certainty is that Darvish can’t fall apart afterward like he did Friday. Two pitches later, he threw a wild pitch that broke a scoreless tie. Then Nick Markakis singled. Kurt Suzuki doubled. And Preston Tucker hit a three-run home run just inside the right-field foul pole for the crushing blow in a 4-0 loss in Darvish’s home debut as a Cub before 29,775 disappointed fans at chilly Wrigley Field.

Cubs starter Yu Darvish hands the ball to manager Joe Maddon after he was pulled in the fifth inning, trailing the Braves 4-0, on Friday at Wrigley Field. Darvish allowed four runs on nine hits, four walks and four strikeouts in his first start at Wrigley Field with the Cubs. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“Obviously, everything went south after the balk, which was not a balk, but it was called a balk,” Maddon said. “It seemed to create a little bit of awkwardness because he was doing well up to that point. He got into a groove. Everything seemed to be working really well. It seemed like after the balk, things changed a bit.”

Though he only had three balks in five previous big-league seasons, it’s not the first time Darvish has been bitten by one. In a 2014 game against the Yankees, Darvish allowed one run on a balk to Brett Gardner, who homered four pitches later to beat Darvish 2-1.

Darvish, who has a hesitation at the beginning of his windup, acknowledged he was frustrated by the call. He held his arms out with palms up after the call, seeking an explanation.

“The umpire told me it was because I paused the motion,” Darvish said. “But over the course of my career, I’ve done that many times, and it’s never called a balk. Even Freeman told me it wasn’t a balk.”

After Tucker’s home run, Darvish walked No. 7 hitter Dansby Swanson, gave up a bunt single to Ryan Flaherty and walked pitcher Anibal Sanchez, and he was pulled by Maddon with an unimpressive bottom line — four runs and nine hits allowed with four walks, the balk, the wild pitch and four strikeouts in 4‰ innings.

In three starts with the Cubs, Darvish is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA. His first start against the Marlins was bad. His next start against the Brewers was good. This one was a little of both. Darvish squirmed out of trouble in the first, second and fourth innings, stranding six runners. He almost made it out of the fifth. But the balk got him.

It was what the Cubs (6-7) are paying for, but Maddon put the best light on it.

“I thought [his performance overall] was good,” Maddon said. “If he kept them at 1-0 . . . the three-run homer really hurt. I thought he had good stuff. He kept getting better. He started locating his backdoor slider. Threw some more splits or changeups — whatever he wants to call them. His stuff was fine. It just blew up in that one at-bat. One pitch to Tucker, and all of a sudden, the game changed.”

The 42-degree game-time temperature probably didn’t help Darvish. It was by far the coldest game he has pitched in since coming to the big leagues. His coldest previous start was a 55-degree night against the Athletics in April 2014.

“I was surprised how cold it was,” Darvish said. “But I told myself, I’ll perform better. If the weather’s colder, I’ll perform better. When I was on the mound, I didn’t feel any cold.”