CHICAGO — About an hour before first pitch on Monday night, a tornado warning went into effect on the north side of Chicago. Sirens blared throughout Wrigleyville, and fans took cover in the concourse.
But before the torrential rains came, Yu Darvish, who was slated to start for the Padres, remained on the field, going through a series of stretches near the right-field warning track.
It was in that moment, ahead of his first start at Wrigley Field since the December 2020 trade that sent him to San Diego, that Darvish took some time to reflect. He had signed a six-year contract with the Cubs prior to the 2018 season. In Chicago, he reached some high highs – including a second-place Cy Young Award finish in ’20. He also endured some low lows – triceps and elbow injuries in 2018 that cut his season short after only eight games and a 4.95 ERA
“To be honest with you, it was a little bit of a sentimental moment for me,” Darvish said afterward. “The tornado warning came in, and everybody left. The fans left the stands. It was like a moment between myself and Wrigley Field.”
After a delay that lasted an hour and 25 minutes, Darvish reminded the Wrigley faithful precisely what they’re missing out on. The veteran right-hander was brilliant (again) on Monday night in the Padres’ 4-1 victory over the Cubs. He pitched eight innings of one-run ball, striking out seven and allowing five hits.
“Obviously this is a place where a lot happened for me — or a lot happened to me,” Darvish said. “But at the end of the day, I’m really grateful to be here, pitching.”
Yan Gomes’ solo homer in the second inning was Darvish’s only true mistake pitch of the night, a hanging slider that ended up in the left-field seats. From there, Darvish was practically untouchable against his former team. He used a tried-and-true formula they should know well in Chicago. He went heavy on the cutter early, and just when the Cubs hitters might’ve been picking up that spin – he blew his high-octane four-seam fastball right by them.
Then, in the game’s decisive moment, Darvish reached into his bag of tricks. With two outs and the tying run at the plate in the eighth inning, he got ahead of Cubs left fielder Ian Happ, 1-2, and then threw a filthy 91 mph splitter just below the strike zone.
Happ swung and missed. Darvish hopped off the mound and let loose a scream. An inning later, closer Taylor Rogers slammed the door on a 38-24 start for the Padres, their best in franchise history and good enough to move them into a virtual tie for first place in the National League West.
That big-picture view has become something of a theme in San Diego. The 2021 collapse is still fresh in everyone’s mind. In fact, no one in the Padres’ clubhouse even seemed aware that they’d moved into a tie for the division lead.
“We’re just worried about us,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer. “… We stick to the stuff we’re good at, we believe we’ll be on top of those standings at the end of the year.”
Indeed, there’s reason to believe the Padres’ early season success is more sustainable this time around. That’s mostly because of their seven-deep starting rotation.
Joe Musgrove has been the unquestioned ace of the Padres’ staff this season. But remove one start in San Francisco from the equation, and Darvish has been a close second. He lowered his ERA to 3.35 on Monday night. Without that nine-run blip against the Giants, it’d be 2.20.
“It’s really hard to create a plan against him, because he has so many pitches that move so many different ways,” said Hosmer. “It’s kind of a nightmare as a hitter.”
Said acting manager Ryan Flaherty: “He has so many weapons and so many different shapes of breaking balls and fastballs, he’s really just a magician with the ball.”
Not that anyone in Chicago needed a reminder. They’ve seen it before here. And once the rains halted and the skies calmed on Monday night, vintage Yu Darvish was back at Wrigley Field, only this time wearing brown.