Yu Darvish will make his World Series debut on Friday for the Dodgers in Game 3 against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park, but if you think he has waited his entire life for this moment, think again.
Asked when he first started thinking of wanting to pitch in the World Series, he replied in Japanese, “I never have.”
“I have never thought about wanting to pitch in the World Series,” he said. “I just don’t want to lose until the end. When you lose in a division series or league championship series, everyone is like this.”
Darvish looked down and hunched over, as if to convey sadness.
Making history doesn’t appeal to him, either.
“You can leave your mark in history, but once you’re dead it doesn’t matter, so I don’t really think about that,” he said.
Darvish’s candor doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He does.
Someone who doesn’t care wouldn’t develop a 10-pitch arsenal, or make the kind of drastic adjustments he made after his midseason trade to the Dodgers. Someone who doesn’t care wouldn’t have performed as he did in his first two starts of this postseason, limiting the Arizona Diamondbacks to a run over five innings and the Chicago Cubs to a run over 6 1/3 innings.
Remember, he wasn’t born and raised here. He spent his childhood in Osaka, dreaming of playing in the Japanese league.
“My goal was to become a professional baseball player in Japan,” he said.
He couldn’t even remember when he first became aware of the World Series. It’s no wonder he only recently learned his manager, Dave Roberts, was the player who helped salvage the 2004 season for the Boston Red Sox by stealing second base in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
Darvish was 25 when he moved from the Japanese league’s Nippon-Ham Fighters to the Texas Rangers.
“I didn’t really come to the major leagues because I wanted to come,” he explained. “It’s more accurate to say I came because I was in a situation where I had to come.”
He had to come because Nippon Professional Baseball ceased to be a challenge. His sense of professional obligation pushed him to the big leagues.
When I first came here, I didn’t even know which teams were in which division. I wasn’t thinking about the World Series.
“When I first came here, I didn’t even know which teams were in which division,” Darvish said. “I wasn’t thinking about the World Series.”
His goal was to become the best pitcher on the planet.
“I do have feelings about wanting to be the No. 1 pitcher in the world,” he said. “To this day, that remains my goal.”
And how close does he think he is?
“If I can continue feeling like I do now, I think I will be able to start seeing it,” he said.
Darvish, 31, simplified his approach over the final month of the season, attacking right-handed hitters with his fastball and left-handed hitters with his cutter. He allowed only one earned run over his last three regular-season starts.
Because pitching at this stage of the postseason doesn’t mark the realization of a lifelong dream, Darvish said he isn’t nervous — and doesn’t want to be.
That wasn’t the case when he pitched in the Japan Series, NPB’s equivalent of the World Series. Darvish envisioned himself pitching there, and when it happened he was extremely anxious.
“I was playing with the goal of becoming a champion in Japan,” he said. “So when the possibility of being a champion in Japan was right in front of me, it became something special and I started feeling pressure and having unnecessary thoughts.”
Darvish is pleased to be taking on the Astros, his former division rival from the American League West.
He wanted to pitch in Minute Maid Park, and went as far as to ask manager Dave Roberts if he could pitch in Game 3 of the series instead of Game 2. Darvish is 4-1 with a 2.16 earned-run average in six career starts at the Astros’ home stadium. He also likes that he won’t have to step in the batter’s box.
“Honestly, I wanted to play against Houston,” he said. “We grew by competing against each other. When the Rangers went to Houston, the Houston fans didn’t say anything nasty to the Rangers, and when Houston visited to Arlington, it wasn’t a nasty rivalry. It was a really good rivalry. Houston has many players who are good people, so it was really fun to play against them.”
He has similarly warm feelings about the Dodgers, who embraced him after his July 31 trade from the Rangers.
“The weather is nice,” Darvish said. “The food is good. The traffic is troublesome, but the team is good. I really look forward to coming to the stadium every day.”
Roberts said that much is clear.
“You can see it with his teammates, you can see when other guys have success how much joy he gets out of that,” Roberts said.
Darvish is an impending free agent. If he wants to return to the Dodgers, he might have sabotaged his chances by pitching as well as he has. He’s now a likely candidate to land a long-term contract, which the Dodgers don’t like offering to pitchers.
“That’s true,” he said with a laugh.
But does he want to return? Darvish said it was up to Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations.
“If they pay me,” he said. “I’m always telling Friedman that. We’re always laughing about that.”
Some concepts transcend culture.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez