You don't often get a chance to flip a narrative on its head as quickly and efficiently as Yu Darvish did.
Instead of hearing a smattering of "BOOO"s in the fifth inning of Friday's ballgame, Darvish actually received a hearty helping of "YUUU"s from the announced crowd of 35,579 at Wrigley Field as he stood on second base with a double:
"I like the 'YU,'" Joe Maddon said. "I'd like to see that catch on. Big strikeout situation — 'Let's go Yu!' That was YUUGE."
When Darvish took the ball Friday for his fifth start in a Cubs uniform, all eyes were on the $126 million man as he tried to silence the narrative that he melts down in the fifth inning (which has happened three times in his first four starts, including the last two times out).
Darvish entered the day with absolutely dreadful numbers in the fifth inning — 12 earned runs, 13 hits, 6 — while struggling to rise above different levels of adversity from a balk call, weather, cramps and two-out basehits.
For a moment Friday, it looked as if history was about to repeat itself.
Darvish got two quick strikeouts of Eric Sogard and Manny Pina in the fifth before allowing the opposing pitcher, Brent Suter, to single with the bases empty. A pair of tough calls went against Darvish and he wound up walking the next batter, Lorenzo Cain.
But he buckled down and induced a soft tapper from Christian Yelich to end the fifth without major incident.
Darvish then led off the bottom half of the inning with a double down the right field line.
He even tossed a scoreless sixth to really hammer home the point that he could pitch beyond the fifth inning.
"Great composure," Maddon said. "I thought he worked the mental game extremely well. He was right on with everything. He developed a great routine. Players with that kind of special ability, sometimes you just get out of your zone somehow and you need to be reminded about a couple things."
Darvish finished with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings, surrendering just an unearned run on 3 hits and a pair of walks.
The outing lowered his season ERA 160 points down to 5.26 as he worked without that little leg hesitation in his wind-up we had seen in his previous starts.
Maddon had a conversation with Darvish while the Cubs were in Cleveland and wanted the 31-year-old pitcher to spend more time focusing on processing the present moment and blocking anything else out.
"I think this concept that he doesn't compete is absolutely fabricated and false," Maddon said. "This guy's one of the best pitchers in the world — not in the United States, in the world. How could you ever arrive at that point if you don't compete?
"But there are times even good players don't process the moment well enough and then things get away from him."
Maddon also talked up how dynamic Darvish's stuff is, preaching patience with the guy who has the highest career K/9 of any starting pitcher in big-league history.
"He really takes care of me and thinks a lot about me,"Darvish said of Maddon through an interpreter. "And today's outing there was a similar situation as the previous game and because I spoke with Joe, I was able to overcome and keep going today.
"He mainly talked about not worrying about the previous pitch or what happened in the past. Concentrate on the pitch that I'm about to throw. Basically, don't worry about what happened in the past and keep going."
Darvish showed flashes of that brilliance Friday, including a pair of wicked sliders to strike out Christian Yelich his first two times up:
Slide to the left. pic.twitter.com/tllUODuTkG— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 27, 2018
Yu Darvish, 3 Different Shapes of Breaking Balls (86 mph Slider, 73 mph Curve, 88 mph Cutter). pic.twitter.com/Qerbd2PcSa— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 27, 2018
He also threw a 64 mph eephus-level curveball to catch Pina looking in the fifth inning:
Yu Darvish, Beautiful 64mph Eephus Curveball. 😍 pic.twitter.com/8gi47ifbBR— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 27, 2018
Darvish is on track to start the finale against the Colorado Rockies Wednesday at Wrigley Field.