Yu turn? Darvish chases away Wrigley boos in focused, aggressive start for Cubs
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He didn’t get the win and didn’t even get the six innings he seemed well on his way to completing.
But Cubs starter Yu Darvish got his “Yuuuus.”
Whether his first Wrigley Field start in 11 months Wednesday marks a turning point for the scrutinized pitcher, the 77-pitch performance against the Pirates for now showed the most focus — and maybe even toughness — of his 11 starts as a Cub.
“It was very, very cold out there, and he handled it extremely well,” manager Joe Maddon said of the lone upside to a 5-2 loss to the Pirates. “From the very first pitch he had great poise, and I thought his confidence was outstanding. I was really impressed under the circumstances.
“The fact that he seemed like he may have found something regarding his delivery, the way the ball was coming out of his hand, everything about him tonight was definitely upbeat.”
Darvish, whose fortitude was questioned at times last year before an elbow injury sidelined him in May, was aggressive throughout the coldest night he had pitched in his career. It was his first start without a walk since 2017, when he pitched for the Dodgers.
“That’s a huge thing for us,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who said it was Darvish’s best start as a Cub because of that. “If he keeps attacking the zone, he’s going to pitch well this year.”
It was a welcome sight to a Cubs team in need of production from its $126 million right-hander, especially after ace Jon Lester (hamstring) went on the injured list Wednesday.
“I’m happy with it, too, but still I gave up five runs and lost the game,” said Darvish, whose only runs allowed came on a pair of home runs to left — the only part of the park where the wind wasn’t knocking down fly balls.
“But there are a lot of takeaways from today’s game.’’
With the game-time temperature at 40 degrees, the wind howling in from right-center and six of the seven fielders behind him wearing winter facemasks to stay warm, Darvish took the mound with short sleeves and no face covering, then pounded the strike zone.
“I always wear the short sleeves,” he said, then added when pressed about the cold: “Yeah, but I didn’t feel the temperature, so I don’t care.”
The only thing that stopped Darvish from throwing strikes Wednesday was Maddon, who pulled him with one out in the sixth after a pair of infield singles put men at the corners with the Cubs trailing 3-1.
Maddon said it was all about trying to get the double play from ground-ball pitcher Kyle Ryan on Josh Bell.
“I felt I still could go, for sure, but I respect Joe’s decision all the time,” said Darvish, who stayed long enough for Maddon to spend several extra seconds talking into his ear before taking the ball.
“I said, ‘Listen, You did a great job. I just want Kyle here because I’m looking for the ground ball to shortstop right now,’ ’’ said Maddon, who instead saw Ryan give up a run-scoring single to right and another run on an errant pickoff throw.
Darvish reiterated this week what he had said during spring training about how he envisioned returning to Wrigley this season after getting booed off the mound May 2.
“I don’t want ‘boo’ anymore,” he said that day. “I want ‘Yu.’ That’s all I want. I don’t want ‘boo’ anymore.”
When he struck out Jason Martin to end a 1-2-3 second inning, he got a full-throated force from most of the crowd as he walked to the dugout.
“I heard ‘boo,’ ’’ he said, keeping a straight face as several people corrected him.
“That was ‘Yu’?’’ he said. “I don’t know. I still heard boos.”
Maybe next time.