That Cy Young race was nice while it lasted.
Now it’s time to get down to October business for Yu Darvish, the Cubs’ 2020 ace, who has looked a little less elite his last two starts than most of the season — and who on Tuesday night preferred not to be asked about the Cy Young for the fourth time in five starts by the same writer.
“Yeah, that’s not working so far,” he said. “So please stop asking me.”
It was hard to tell if he was smiling behind his mask as he spoke.
But Darvish, who already has said “I don’t care” about the possibility of winning a first career Cy Young, has bigger things on his mind, either way, as the Cubs opened a five-game lead in the NL Central with 11 to play by beating Cleveland 6-5 on a back-to-back hit batters in the bottom of the ninth.
Darvish remains the Cubs’ chance of going deep in the playoffs — even as he called his seven innings Tuesday “terrible” on a night he probably dropped far enough behind both Trevor Bauer of the Reds and Jacob deGrom of the Mets to eliminate a realistic shot at the award.
He has to be. If he's not, it's a steep drop to whatever their next-best chance is.
“We are in a good spot right now,” Darvish said when asked about the postseason. “I hope I can pitch in the playoffs and pitch better than before.”
Darvish seemed to be referring to his two poor starts for the Dodgers during the 2017 World Series in which the Astros were later found to have cheated by electronically stealing signs.
That same ballpark in Houston is likely where he would return to pitch in one of Major League Baseball’s four Division Series playoff “bubbles” if the Cubs win their best-of-three first-round series, according to the schedule released earlier in the day.
And a night like Tuesday, against Cleveland, might actually suggest as much reason for faith in his ability to navigate the lineups and pressure of the postseason as the dominant, seven-start winning streak that put him in Cy Young contention in the first place.
Darvish didn’t allow more than a run in either of those starts but has allowed three in each of his last two — including a Tuesday night full of traffic and near misses, thanks to a season-high nine hits, including more doubles (five) than he had allowed in his first nine starts combined (four).
“I was terrible today. I had nothing. Absolutely nothing,” he said. “I still can’t believe I threw 7 innings today and we won.
“I only had [the ability] to throw strikes, that’s it. The defense and offense had my back, and that gave me a lot of confidence.”
Darvish actually retired the first five batters of the game on 17 pitches before Tyler Naquin fouled off five straight two-strike pitches in a 10-pitch at-bat that resulted in the first hit of the game.
Cleveland feared runs might be tough enough to come by against him that when Josh Naylor led off the third with a double, Delino DeShields tried to bunt him to third — and wound up with a single that led to a throwing error and a two-run inning.
Right-fielder Jason Heyward threw out Francisco Lindor trying to score on a routine fly to end the inning, and Darvish limited enough damage through seven that when the Cubs scored in the bottom of the seventh, Darvish was in line for a win.
It might not look like much. And maybe it won’t mean a thing next month.
But Darvish gave himself enough credit to recognize that some of the changes he has made since midseason last year — and the confidence that led him a few weeks ago to say he felt better than he did even in his prime — were the difference in him getting through seven innings on 100 pitches.
In past years, he said, “When I don’t feel bad, I can’t go more than five innings. But today’s totally different than before.”
At 34, Darvish (7-2, 2.00 ERA) is still a near-lock to receive Cy Young votes for the first time in seven years, and with two starts left might yet push Bauer and two-time reigning Cy Young winner deGrom (who puts his league-leading 1.67 ERA on the line Wednesday against the Phillies).
But it's probably time to stop asking him about it.
And start looking for answers to bigger questions for him and this team.