HOUSTON -- Texas manager Ron Washington offered the simplest response when asked to compare the gem Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish twirled on Monday against the splendid performance Darvish delivered in his first start of the season at Minute Maid Park on April 2.
"I think the (start) in April was better," Washington said. "Yeah he struck out more this time but I think the one in April was better ... simply because they didn't get a run."
The subsequent chorus of laughs underscored the difficulty Washington faced splitting hairs between what made one brilliant Darvish outing different from another. In his second start of the season at Minute Maid Park, Darvish carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and the Rangers completed a four-game sweep of the Houston Astros with a 2-1 victory.
Darvish (12-5), who retired the first 26 batters he faced before surrendering a Marwin Gonzales single in his first start of this season, struck out a career-high 15 batters while dominating Houston (37-80) again. He overcame one dubious call by plate umpire Ron Kulpa and the ejection of his catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, to improve to 4-1 with a 1.31 ERA over five starts since returning from the 15-day disabled list on July 22.
Astros catcher Carlos Corporan ended Darvish's no-hit bid with a first-pitch solo home run to right field with one out in the eighth inning. Before that mistake, Darvish appeared bulletproof -- like he was in April.
"The pitches that I threw today were a lot different than what I threw in April," Darvish said. "I didn't throw that many cut fastballs, it was mainly sliders. I think I was in pretty good shape and had a good outing.
"I think I said this before, but a win's a win. I'm just glad I was a big part of this win."
Darvish was perfect through five innings and was one strike away from retiring his first 18 batters before controversy struck in the bottom of the sixth inning. Darvish fooled Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar with a 2-2 curveball that replays showed clipped the bottom of the strike zone.
But Kulpa called that pitch a ball and when the ensuing 3-2 pitch missed, Villar had worked a walk and Pierzynski reacted in disgust. Almost immediately, Kulpa ejected Pierzynski for arguing balls and strikes.
"Pierzynski didn't like the 3-1 pitch that I (called for a ball)," Kulpa said, clearly misremembering the count. "We had words about the 3-1 pitch. And then he walked him on the very next pitch and he continued to argue on the pitch before. And he got ejected."
Darvish sidestepped the distraction and managed the challenge of switching backstops midstream. Geovany Soto replaced Pierzynski and Darvish resumed his mastery, striking out Robbie Grossman to end the sixth. He then set down four consecutive batters before Corporan cut the Texas (69-50) lead in half with his seventh homer on the season.
"It was pretty much similar stuff," Astros manager Bo Porter said in comparing the two Darvish starts in Houston. "Again, you talk about a guy that has No. 1 starter stuff and knows how to use it. He throws all his pitches in any counts, he plusses and minuses his fastball. His first fastball of the game was 89. You look up three innings later, he's throwing 96. It's all coming from the same arm slot. It's pretty good."
The Rangers scored twice in the first off Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, whose first two starts of the season ended with his working seven shutout innings against the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre ended that scoreless streak with an RBI double that preceded a run-scoring single from Pierzynski.
Oberholtzer (2-1) allowed just four more singles before departing in the seventh. Josh Fields stranded a pair of inherited runners in relief.
Closer Joe Nathan worked a perfect ninth inning to record his 35th save for the Rangers. Darvish tossed 115 pitches before exiting, having led Texas to its 13th victory in 14 games and a franchise-best 9-1 road trip.
And while another near miss of a date with history didn't leave Darvish longing, the same can't be said of his teammates who sought perfection.
"I'm still waiting," Beltre said. "I thought today was going to be the day but it didn't happen. Darvish almost had it twice here and he ended up not getting it done. I'm so disappointed."
NOTES: Texas reclaimed Oakland IF Adam Rosales off waivers and he will report to the club Tuesday. Rosales, who was originally claimed by Texas before being designated for assignment and reclaimed by Oakland last Thursday, hit .191 with four home runs and eight RBIs in 51 games with the Athletics, who designated him for assignment on Saturday. ... Rangers DH Lance Berkman, who started a rehab assignment on Saturday night with Triple-A Round Rock, was given Monday off. He will DH for Double-A Frisco on Tuesday and Wednesday and will be re-evaluated after that. ... Astros 2B Jose Altuve (left quad strain) was not in the lineup Monday but will avoid a trip to the disabled list.