Yu Darvish never even came close to hearing boos rain down on him from the Cubs faithful Friday afternoon.
Instead, 40,740 fans at Wrigley Field chanted "YUUUU!!" at the 32-year-old right-hander in six straight innings as he walked off the field in what was probably his best start in a Cubs uniform.
Darvish spun 6 shutout innings against the red-hot Pirates offense Friday, striking out 8 and taking a perfect game into the fifth inning. However, despite that effort, he is still searching for his first win at "The Friendly Confines" as the Cubs offense couldn't lend him any support.
The Cubs didn't score until the seventh inning when Kris Bryant hit a solo home run to kick off a 3-run inning. After Pedro Strop served up a game-tying 3-run shot to Starling Marte in the top of the eighth, Jason Heyward knocked home Bryant in the bottom of the inning to pull out a 4-3 victory and get an all-important homestand started out on the right foot.
The home run was the lone blemish, as — for one day, at least — the Cubs cleaned up their sloppy play and turned in stellar defense and baserunning, led by Bryant, Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.
"We did a lot of good things today. We played really well, including that first ball that Rizzo had to pick to the last one that he kept his foot on the bag," Joe Maddon said. "Gosh, Yu was outstanding. He deserved a better fate. ... I thought it was a better brand of baseball."
As the Cubs were setting up their second-half rotation heading into the All-Star Break, Darvish petitioned Maddon and the coaching staff to let him start Game 1. Why?
"Last year, I didn't do anything," Darvish said. "I want to pitch a lot of games this year. I know the first game after the All-Star Break is tough for the pitcher and everybody, but I believe I can do it, so I told him I can pitch."
Before the game, Maddon said he felt like the right-hander came into the outing trending in the right direction.
He was right, as Darvish notched his first scoreless outing in a Cubs uniform and only his fifth quality start this season in 19 tries. He's pitched at least 6 innings in eight of his last 10 starts.
"My goodness, we'll take that. Anywhere, anytime, I'll take that," Maddon said. "He's getting really comfortable in his Chicago Cubs skin right now. He's just a different cat, the way he interacts, the way he gets ready. He's so much more comfortable than he had been at any time last year.
"And then you're seeing the stuff. My god. He had his splitter going today, too. He wanted to bring it back out; he felt good about it. He threw it back out there and it was outstanding to go with the cutter/slider and then he would change speeds off that to give it a bigger break.
"He just pitched extremely well. Had better command of his fastball. You can't say enough. He was outstanding."
The performance dropped Darvish's overall season ERA to 4.72 and WHIP to 1.29 while knocking his home ERA from 6.23 to 5.53 across 10 starts on Chicago's North Side.
As the Cubs work to right the ship in the second half, they could really use a consistent and confident Darvish, especially while veteran Cole Hamels is still nursing an oblique injury.