HOUSTON -- Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish came within one out of recording the 24th perfect game in major league history, settling for a 7-0 win over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
Darvish, in his second season with the Rangers, struck out a career-high 14 batters before needing just three pitches to retire Jason Castro and Carlos Corporan on grounders to open the ninth. However, Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez laced the first pitch of his third at-bat through Darvish's legs and into center field. He hit a 91 mph four-seam fastball.
Darvish (1-0) was lifted after the Gonzalez single, his 111th pitch of the game. Michael Kirkman replaced Darvish and allowed a single by Jose Altuve before striking out pinch hitter J.D. Martinez to end the game.
After striking out the side in the second and fourth innings, Darvish showed signs of laboring as his pitch count elevated. However, after striking out only one batter in the sixth and one in the seventh, Darvish rebounded in the eighth. He outlasted Chris Carter, striking him out with a full count. Carter fouled off three consecutive offerings before swinging and missing on an 85 mph slider. Rick Ankiel fanned, and Justin Maxwell grounded out to end the inning.
Darvish tied the Minute Maid Park record for strikeouts, a mark first set by Astros right-hander Bud Norris against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 14, 2010, and matched by Atlanta Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson on June 12, 2011.
Incidentally, Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski caught the 21st perfect game in baseball history on April 21, 2012, one of three thrown last season. He was the backstop for Chicago White Sox right-hander Philip Humber, who blanked the Seattle Mariners 4-0 at Safeco Field. Humber was later released by the White Sox and signed with the Astros, and he will make his Houston debut in the series finale on Wednesday.
The Rangers have five no-hitters in their history, the last coming July 28, 1994, when Kenny Rogers beat the California Angels. Nolan Ryan threw no-hitters for Texas in 1990 and 1991.
In addition to Humber's gem, the Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays last Aug. 15, and the San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain threw one against Houston on June 13.
The record for strikeouts in a perfect game is 14, set by the Los Angeles Dodgers' Sandy Koufax in 1965 against the Chicago Cubs and matched by Cain last year.
Darvish flashed an unhittable fastball-slider combination in the early stages.
After striking out Altuve and Brett Wallace to open his outing, Darvish struck out the side in the second inning, closing the frame with three consecutive called strikes against Maxwell. Castro and Corporan actually managed to put the ball in play in the third, but Darvish recovered to fan four consecutive batters. By the close of the fifth inning he'd already recorded his ninth career 10-strikeout game, reaching that plateau in just his 30th start.
Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell wasn't as dominant, but he was nearly as effective. Harrell pitched according to the scouting report, inducing four ground-ball outs before running into trouble in the top of the third.
The Rangers strung together consecutive one-out hits before shortstop Elvis Andrus worked a walk to load the bases ahead of Lance Berkman. Facing a 1-2 count, Berkman poked a single the opposite way into left field to score Craig Gentry, who doubled, and give Texas a 1-0 lead.
Harrell recovered to retired Adrian Beltre and David Murphy, and later started inning-ending double plays in the fourth and sixth to avoid additional danger. Harrell was lifted after six stellar innings, allowing that solo earned run on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
NOTES: The Rangers and Andrus agreed to terms of a contract that will keep the 24-year-old in Arlington through at least 2018. The extension is reportedly worth $120 million over eight seasons, although the language of the contract allows Andrus to opt out after four seasons. Andrus is currently signed through the 2015 season. A two-time All-Star, Andrus finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2009 and has produced a .274/.342/.352 batting line and 13.0 WAR over 602 games. ... Castro, normally the Astros' catcher, served as the designated hitter Monday night, the first time he could remember filling that role professionally. Corporan caught Harrell after the two enjoyed success working together this spring.