The words were simple, but Yu Darvish found the sentiment behind them to be particularly heartwarming.
“We’re going to get this one for you.”
That’s what Darvish said he was told by the other Dodgers in the team’s pregame huddle the day after he lived a nightmare in his first start in a World Series.
The Dodgers won Game 4 as promised and were victorious again on Halloween in Game 6, extending the series against the Houston Astros and granting Darvish an opportunity to pitch on the greatest stage his sport has to offer, a winner-take-all seventh game Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
“As a team, as a human being, I’m very grateful to have that kind of support,” Darvish said in Japanese. “I thought I was very blessed to be able to play baseball while being surrounded by people like this.”
He showed his appreciation with a small gesture.
After Dodgers victories, players on the bench form a line to high-five the players who were on the field for the final out. Clayton Kershaw has typically been at the front of the welcoming party in this postseason.
Game 4 in Houston was an exception. Darvish, who was rocked the previous day, was the first to slap hands with players departing from the field of play. Not only that, he didn’t high-five his teammates using his non-pitching hand, as he usually had. He offered them his right hand.
Darvish was somewhere in the middle of the line Tuesday night after the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory, but again presented his valuable right hand.
“He’s not necessarily emotional, but he is sensitive,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It meant a lot to him for players to come out and say that for him.”
This knowledge that his teammates backed him could explain why Darvish was considerably more relaxed in a news conference Tuesday than he was in a similar setting leading up to his previous start. The day before he was charged with four runs in only 12/3 innings of that Game 3 loss, Darvish looked and sounded extremely nervous. His voice was muted. His sentences were clipped.
He was back to his normal self Tuesday, eloquently covering a number of subjects, from how he still wasn’t upset about the slanted-eyes gesture made by Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel in Game 3 to how the baseballs used in this series felt abnormal.
Darvish sounded comforted by the idea that his dismal World Series performance could have been the result of a slicker baseball. He won his previous two starts of the postseason, giving up a combined two runs over 111/3 innings.
“When the game ended, like I told everyone my slider slipped and the ball wouldn’t catch on my finger,” Darvish said. “I didn’t know the ball was slicker.”
He was informed of the possibility by a reporter.
“I compared the balls myself and they were very different,” he said.
When he threw a bullpen session Sunday, he made it a point to use a baseball specially made for this World Series.
“I think my slider was better in my bullpen session,” he said.
The five-out start was the shortest of Darvish’s career, but he said he didn’t consider it the worst-ever performance.
“If it was the regular season, I wouldn’t have been taken out at the point, so it’s hard for me to think I had my worst start here,” he said. “There’s no point in thinking about it. I just have to pitch well.”
In the middle of Game 4 or Game 5, Darvish said he was told by Roberts he was scheduled to start a potential Game 7. Darvish responded by telling the manager his turn wouldn’t come because the Dodgers would win the series before then.
Evidently, Darvish learned to trust his teammates as much as they trust him.
Darvish is said to not have been particularly close with his teammates in high school or on his first professional team, Japan’s Nippon-Ham Fighters. It wasn’t until the last couple of seasons that he started forming close relationships on the Texas Rangers.
What he discovered upon his trade to the Dodgers was an unusually welcoming environment.
“You want them to feel comfortable, try to acclimate them as fast as you can in any way, saying, ‘Hey,’ asking him what he does, asking him about his family, anything you can do just to make a guy as comfortable as possible,” shortstop Corey Seager said.
Darvish used to occasionally think about how he didn’t enjoy playing baseball as much as he did as a child. That has changed over the last three months.
“I really look forward to coming to the stadium every day,” he said.
His teammates are a major reason why.
Darvish downplayed the effect this solidarity could have on how he approached the game. Of what the others told him in that pregame huddle, he said, “Even if that didn’t happen, it wouldn’t change the fact I would give 100%.”
Third baseman Justin Turner was pleased the Dodgers could present Darvish with a chance for redemption.
“He probably didn’t feel very good about the way things ended for him in Houston and I’m glad we get a chance to give him another opportunity to go out there and throw the ball like he can,” Turner said.
When Turner returned to the clubhouse after the game Tuesday, he made it a point to speak to Darvish.
“I came in here after the game, gave him a big hug and told him his time was tomorrow,” Turner said.
And if it’s Darvish’s time, it will be the Dodgers’, too.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez