When Yu Darvish walks to the Dodger Stadium mound in his Chicago Cubs uniform on Saturday night, the reception from Dodgers fans is not expected to be welcoming.
Darvish will be pitching in Los Angeles for the first time since the 2017 World Series, where his back-to-back disastrous outings helped contribute to the Dodgers’ disappointing loss to the Houston Astros in seven games.
Darvish, who was acquired by Los Angeles minutes before the July 31 trade deadline, allowed nine runs (eight earned) in just 3 1/3 innings during the World Series. He was the losing pitcher in Game 3 and Game 7.
The outings made Darvish an easy target for fans who were frustrated that the team’s 29-year championship drought continued. And it wouldn't be shocking if some Dodgers fans use this opportunity to voice their displeasure once more.
That’s why some Dodgers who went to battle with Darvish in 2017 are now going to bat for him in hopes of minimizing whatever animosity still exists among Dodgers fans.
That includes Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers’ longtime ace says fans have been quick to forget how much Darvish contributed during his brief three-month stint.
“It’s just easier to do that (blame Darvish), right? It’s just easier,” Kershaw said. “But it doesn’t make it right. People forget fast that we’re not in that position without him.”
“Fans have the right to boo players who don’t perform, there’s no doubt about it,” Kershaw said. “I just think when you’re in here in the clubhouse with the team and you know everything we go through on a day-in, day-out basis and you know Yu performed really well up to that point, pitched two really big games to get into the World Series – against the Diamondbacks and the Cubs. We wouldn’t even have been in that position without him.”
A Game 7 also might not have been needed had Kershaw protected four- and three-run leads in Game 5.
Cody Bellinger, who was coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign, went just 4 for 28 during the World Series. “Not one person lost the World Series,” was his take when asked about the backlash for Darvish.
Manager Dave Roberts attempted to downplay Game 7 especially:
“I thought he had some really good moments with us. People want to reference Game 7 a lot – which is unfortunate, which was unfortunate obviously for all of us. … I think for him it’s more a personal thing. I know he loved his time in L.A., loved the Dodgers and the fans. I think it’s more Game 7 didn’t go well for any of us and I think that’s kind of his cross to bear maybe a little bit.”
The support now is nice, but it doesn’t do anything to change history.
Darvish wore his World Series performance deep into the winter and deep into his free agency, before signing a six-year, $126 million contract with the Cubs. Darvish later said a return to Los Angeles was ruled out over concerns about backlash from Dodgers fans, particularly directed at his kids while they were at school.
The support also doesn’t make Darvish’s current predicament any easier, either.
After injuries limited him to just eight starts last season, Darvish has posted a 4.98 ERA in 14 starts this season. He currently leads the league in walks issued (44) and wild pitches thrown (7), and is in desperate need of a breakthrough outing to help get him on track.
Perhaps that’s where Saturday’s outing can actually help Darvish. If he can post a solid start at Dodger Stadium, in a potentially hostile environment, against one of MLB’s best offenses, it might do wonders for his confidence while exorcising some lingering demons.
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