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Yu Darvish did not have a great World Series. He started two games for the Los Angeles Dodgers and both performances were disastrous. In Game 3, he allowed four runs on six hits in 1.2 innings. In fateful Game 7, he allowed five runs on three hits in 1.2 innings. The Dodgers lost both games, and would end up losing the World Series to the Houston Astros.
The main question was why this happened. Darvish is an exceptional pitcher, and for him to have two straight starts like that is rare. At the time some said he was tipping his pitches, and while that seemed likely, no one knew how it was happening.
Well, now we know. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci spoke to an unnamed Astros player who gave up all the details of how the team was able to figure out what Darvish would be throwing.
According to a Houston player, the Astros often knew what Darvish was about to throw by the way he brought the ball into his glove in the set position. (Darvish pitches exclusively out of the stretch.) The player said it worked like this: Darvish holds the ball at his side when he gets the sign from the catcher. Whether he re-grips or not as he brings the ball into his glove was the tip-off whether he was going to throw a slider/cutter or a fastball.
“We knew the first time we faced him [in Game 3],” the player said. “The next time [in Game 7] it was mostly the same, but then it was more about just having a great game plan going in. We knew he was going to try to go back to his slider to find it. We had a great approach.”
Darvish did not make it out of the second inning in either start. He threw 48 sliders and cutters to Houston hitters in the World Series. They swung and missed only twice at them while hitting .556 against the pitch.
And there we go. Sliders (when thrown right) are supposed to induce a swing and a miss. Darvish depends on that slider, which is one of the best in the game, to get hitters out. But if batters know it’s coming, it loses all its magic. They don’t swing, the pitch is a ball, and Darvish loses one of his biggest weapons.
There had been a lot of speculation about the slickness of the baseballs in the World Series. Pitchers, who handle baseballs all the time, said that they definitely noticed a difference. Yu Darvish specifically said that he couldn’t get a decent grip on the ball, which affected the effectiveness of his slider. And while the pitch tipping certainly explains some of that away, it doesn’t explain everything. Other pitchers, including Charlie Morton and Justin Verlander, noticed the slicker baseball and said that it caused them to change the way they were pitching.
It could have changed the way Darvish was pitching, too — and it probably did. But no matter what he threw, the Astros had his number.
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