In the afternoon before his first start as a Dodger, a 6-0 dismantling of the New York Mets, Yu Darvish received an indoctrination in the methodology of baseball’s best team.
At the team hotel in Manhattan, Darvish met with general manager Farhan Zaidi, who advised him on how to attack that night’s hitters. Zaidi opened a laptop and revealed how Darvish could optimize his arsenal, altering the locations and pitch sequences he utilized during five seasons with Texas.
“I was like, ‘Is that really going to work?’” Darvish said through his interpreter, Hideaki Sato. “But it worked. I really put the trust in him.”
The union between Darvish and the Dodgers requires faith. The Dodgers (77-32) believed Darvish was worth the three prospects needed to pry him from the Rangers. And Darvish will need to embrace the suggestions of his new employers. In their first game together, both parties lived up to the hype.
“I was really worried, because the Dodgers have such great pitchers,” Darvish said. “I didn’t want to pitch bad in the first outing.”
He did not. Despite residual jitters from his last outing as a Ranger, Darvish silenced the Mets for seven innings and piled up 10 strikeouts. His new teammates taxed Mets starter Jacob deGrom and bullied the relievers who replaced him. Buoyed by home runs from Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig and Chase Utley, Darvish led from the moment he stepped on the field.
“It’s one start,” manager Dave Roberts said. “But he did everything we hoped he would do.”
A festival atmosphere greeted the Dodgers when they arrived at Citi Field on Friday. Sandy Koufax visited the clubhouse. Todd Boehly, a member of the ownership group, made an appearance. Players mingled on the field with Alex Rodriguez, who will broadcast Saturday’s game for Fox.
But, Darvish would admit later, he was unsure about what would come next. On July 26, Miami roasted Darvish for 10 runs. He finished July with a 7.20 earned-run average in five starts. There were whispers about him tipping pitches and feeling uncomfortable with trade rumors.
Darvish had not answered those questions when Friday began. He harbored some nerves about joining a new team, he admitted. But he also fretted about his own ability.
“I gave up 10 runs in the last outing,” Darvish said. “So to come back from that, I was a little concerned about that.”
The beginning did not inspire confidence. The first pitch Darvish threw as a Dodger was a 94-mph fastball. Mets outfielder Michael Conforto smacked it into right field for a single.
After striking out Mets third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera with a curveball, Darvish issued a six-pitch walk to first baseman Jay Bruce. Darvish escaped with loud contact. Yoenis Cespedes lined out to left and Darvish snared a line drive by Curtis Granderson for the third out.
“It was about minimizing the damage after the first hit,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said. “We were able to do that.”
Darvish benefited from his new offense’s abundance of talent. Taylor led the game off with a solo shot. An inning later, Puig walloped a homer into left-center field, setting a new career high with 20 in a season. Taylor led off the fifth with a single and came around to score.
As the offense chugged along, Darvish soon settled into a groove. He struck out two in the second. He worked around a leadoff single, and subsequent stolen base, by deGrom to punch out two more with a pair of 95-mph fastballs in the third. He spotted another 95-mph fastball at the knees to freeze Granderson for a strikeout in the fourth.
“He was lights out,” Grandal said.
Up three runs, Darvish did not panic when Mets rookie Amed Rosario led off the bottom of the fifth with a single. Darvish permitted another stolen base, but he retired the next two batters. Conforto came up with two outs.
Here, the Dodgers saw the dynamism of Darvish’s arsenal. Conforto fouled off a slider. He swung through a curveball. With the count at 1-2, Darvish fired a 94-mph fastball. The baseball veered up and away. Conforto could not hold back. He failed to check his swing and became Darvish’s seventh strikeout.
“His stuff looked electric,” Utley said.
Any tension evaporated in the sixth. DeGrom had thrown 99 pitches, and did not return after the fifth. The Dodgers took advantage of left-handed reliever Josh Smoker. After a walk by Grandal, Utley launched a hanging splitter into the second deck of the right-field seats, quieting the Mets fans still grousing about his history of torturing their franchise.
Darvish retired the side with five pitches in the sixth. In his final inning, he overwhelmed his opponents. Granderson could not catch up to a 92-mph fastball. When second baseman Neil Walker chased a 2-2 curveball, he connected only with air. The inning ended when Rosario swung through a slide to end a stirring debut.
“It’s the first game, so you’re always trying to get better,” Grandal said. “But it’s hard to say you can get any better than he was tonight.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes