It turned out to be a costly as it was sudden.
And potentially telling.
Back-to-back walks and a two-out home run in the first inning was the first time the Cubs’ Yu Darvish has looked anything but dominant for six weeks — and the only time he wasn’t in control of the game against the Reds on Wednesday night.
But that’s how fast a seven-start winning streak can end, even in another quality start, even when the only hit the rest of the way doesn’t so much as leave the infield, even with 16 of the final 17 batters faced retired.
In a rematch of Cy Young candidates, the Reds’ Trevor Bauer evened the score on this night, taking a one-hitter into the eighth and winding up with a 7 2/3-inning gem for a 3-0 victory.
And whether this game has any significant say in how that Cy Young race is decided, it definitely underscored just how much the Cubs need to find answers to all their questions in the middle and back end of their rotation — if only because it offered an example of how whiplash-fast a playoff run might end without it.
“I couldn’t control my body in the first inning,” said Darvish, whose adjustments to a more fastball-based Plan B was quick and effective enough that he struck out the side in the second. “I was trying to figure that out, but I couldn’t.”
The consecutive one-out walks to Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker matched his highest total for an entire start this year — in fact, for an entire start since June 5 of last year.
“Kind of unlike him this year,” manager David Ross said. “And then one big swing by [Mike] Moustakas, and that was the ballgame.”
After the homer, Darvish gave up an infield single to Shogo Akiyama, then set down 16 of 17, allowing only a two-out walk to Brian Goodwin in the fourth.
“I thought he was as good as we’ve seen him there after the first inning on,” Ross said.
If Darvish (7-2) showed anything, it’s that he still offers one of the best chances any team in the National League has to beat any other team on a given night in October.
But if Bauer showed the Cubs anything, it’s that without more playoff-caliber depth beyond No. 2 option Kyle Hendricks, one hiccup of a sequence can make quick work of a lineup that continues to struggle and that on its best day does not promise a lot of hope of scratching for runs.
“On this planet, I believe he’s the best pitcher,” said Darvish, who banters with Bauer on social media and whose relationship goes back to when they were represented by the same agent. “So I can’t do that in the first.”
When Bauer was lifted in the eighth, he waved at the Cubs’ dugout, but it came with a scowl and was not meant for his Cy Young rival.
It seemed to have more to do with the noise the Cubs’ dugout continued to make deep into the game on a night Bauer so thoroughly quieted the bats
“It was impressive that you can chirp at someone after they shoved it up your a** for 7 2/3 innings,” Bauer told writers after the game.
The good news for the Cubs out of this rematch of Darvish’s Aug. 29 win at Cincinnati: The Cubs likely won’t see Bauer again, with his fourth-place Reds far off the pace for a berth even in this year of expanded playoffs.
The not-so-good news for the Cubs out of this game: Darvish can’t do it himself in October, no matter who they might face.