Pa Jake Mintz
Posted by FOX Sports MLB

Years from now we will all remember how hopeless it is Max Scherzer looked.

Nothing could erase that image from our collective memory: the most feared pitcher of a generation, a surefire Hall of Famer, rolling off the mound to a barrage of boos after allowing seven runs in a dumpster fire. In front of a sold-out crowd at Citi Field, with high energy and high expectations, Scherzer smashed against Padres in Metz7-1 Game 1 loss of the 2022 Wild-Card series.

But Mad Max’s sad night was even more striking in contrast to the masterful performance opposite him. Yu Darvish, one of the most excitingly talented pitchers in the sport, showed up and delivered when Scherzer didn’t. Despite the lack of his dirtiest swing-and-miss stuff, Darvish refused to let the Mets back into the ballgame. After a rough first inning that teetered on the edge, Darvish didn’t give the Mets and their fans any reason to hope.

The 36-year-old right-hander pitched seven stellar frames on Friday, allowing one earned run on six hits and zero walks. His devastating four-seamer/cutter/slider triad confused hitters all game, causing plenty of weak contact against a clearly uncomfortable Mets lineup. Moreover, by breaking through in the seventh inning, Darvish — with a big assist from the Padres’ four homers — allowed skipper Bob Melvin to keep his top players fresh for Saturday’s Game 2.

And now, thanks in large part to Darvish and his exemplary career through the first 100 games of the postseason, the Padres are one win away from an NLDS showdown with Smart people.

When it comes down to it, the postseason is a dinzi. Trying to string hits together against a team’s best pitchers is a difficult task. The best strategy, most of the time, is to draw a walk or two and then aim for the horizon. Clubs that can straddle the fence when the weather turns cold win more games than they lose. (2015 year Royal it’s the exception that proves the rule.)

On Friday, except Eduardo Escobarwith a solo shot, Darvish left the baseball in the yard. Scherzer did not. It probably has a lot to do with the 7-year-old Mets fan I saw in the concourse pounding his fist on the cement wall in disgust.

Although Darvish danced one step ahead of the New York beats, his performance was more workmanlike than dominant. The four strikeouts were his fewest in a start since June 1. Scherzer — early trip to the shower and all — produced just one turnover in 4⅔ fewer than Darvish over seven innings.

But control is far more important than being obnoxious. And Darvish never broke, never gave up on that heavy knock. His most important serve of the evening came early, vs Pete Alonso in the bottom of the first inning with one out and the Mets on the corners.

Alonso’s league-leading 131 RBI this season tied the Mets’ franchise record. Whenever the ducks were on the pond this season, Alonso usually brought them home.

But Darvish went right after the fearsome hitter, challenging him from the first pitch in the zone. Alonso got his shaft and smoked the ball 400 feet down the left field line, but very badly. A few minutes later, down 0-2, Darvish froze Alonso with a perfect knee cutter.

The next striker Daniel Fogelbach, flew out to right to end the threat. The Citi Field crowd returned with their feet in place, never to rise again.

The night was a highlight in what has been a surprising journey to the big leagues for Darvish, who made the long-awaited trans-Pacific leap ahead of the 2012 season. that winter Rangers paid a total of $110 million to secure his services, and for the first three seasons, he delivered. He made three All-Star games in three years, finished second in the Cy Young Tournament and led baseball in K/9 from 2012-14.

But then his elbow ligament said goodbye, and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. Darvish took off in the spring of 2015, got a Tommy John, returned as a slightly diminished version of himself in ’16 and was dealt at the 2017 deadline by the Dodgers, with whom he pitched well until the World Series, where he was beaten by the eventual champion Astroswho may possibly have cheated.

After that, Darvish signed a contract with Cubs in free agency and then was very mediocre for two seasons before regaining his form during a COVID-shortened season to finish second in the Cy Young before the cost-cutting Cubbies traded him to San Diego. In 2021, he was outrageously good before the All-Star break, thrusting himself into the Cy Young discussion with a sub-3.0 ERA, but then, like the Padres, he collapsed dramatically.

The thing is, Darvish’s career has fluctuated between bouts of brilliance and bouts of mediocrity, sometimes even in the same start. For all that, things have always been fascinating, his kitchen sink providing perfect fodder for Pitching Ninja GIFs. But it also seemed at times, especially early in his tenure with the Cubs and the latter half of last season, that Darvish was chasing the ghost of himself.

This season is a different story. Since the disastrous sortie against the village Giants in his second start of the year, in which he gave up nine runs and walked just five on a miserably windy and cold night in San Francisco, Darvish posted the sixth-lowest total in the National League. His last month was particularly good as he allowed just eight runs in six starts.

That hot stretch toward the end of the year likely elevated Darvish above his peers in the Padres’ paid-army rotation and earned him Game 1 starting responsibility. He shined in that stretch, picking up his first postseason win since the 2017 NLCS. Baseball has changed quite a bit since then, and so has Darvish. He’s discovered himself many times as a pitcher over the years, but says he finally feels comfortable and safe thanks to a better pregame routine that includes mediation.

Darvish still has some demons to work through — he declined to comment when asked about his struggles against Houston in the 2017 World Series — but he’ll have plenty of opportunities to overcome the past if San Diego moves past Mets.

Now closer to 40 than 30, he may not have enough time to grab a ring, but on Friday he took a purposeful step toward pushing the Padres farther into October than they’ve gone in 25 years.

Jake Mintz, Louder Half @Cespede’s BBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan who lives in New York, so he lives a single life for most of October. When he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.

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