What fifth inning meltdown? Yu Darvish shows what he's made of...for one day, at least

What fifth inning meltdown? Yu Darvish shows what he's made of...for one day, at least

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:

He also threw a 64 mph eephus-level curveball to catch Pina looking in the fifth inning:

Darvish is on track to start the finale against the Colorado Rockies Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

Alec Mills emerging as a quiet contributor in Cubs' late-season bullpen


Alec Mills emerging as a quiet contributor in Cubs' late-season bullpen

Alec Mills is about as under-the-radar as you can be as a Cubs player these days.

He's never been a top prospect, he doesn't throw hard (his fastball has been clocked at just 89.3 mph this season), and his demeanor on and off the mound is far from flashy.

Yet he continues to get outs in a quiet, efficient manner.

Sound like anybody else you know?

Joe Maddon has said several times over the past couple years that Mills reminds him of Kyle Hendricks and 14 games into Mills' Cubs career, it's hard to argue with that.

Over the last week, the 27-year-old right-hander has picked up his first MLB win (Monday) and save (Friday) while emerging as another solid piece out of the Cubs' September bullpen that has been without Craig Kimbrel and Brandon Kintzler of late.

The Cubs eventually won Monday night's game 8-2, but Mills was called on to protect a 3-2 game in the fifth and sixth innings and bridged the gap to Rowan Wick by permitting only a single in the two frames.

"What he did [Monday], he gave the game form again," Maddon said. "Really good pitches and a variety of pitches to both lefties and righties. Give the guy credit, man. Every time he shows up, he does something good for us. And does it in a very quiet, professional manner. He's outstanding."

Like Maddon said, Mills has quietly had a lot of success in the big leagues. In each of the last two seasons, he's made five relief appearances and two starts and has combined for 44.1 innings in a Cubs uniform with a 3.65 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 10.2 K/9. 

Not bad for a guy who rides the Chicago-to-Iowa shuttle as much as any other arm.

"It's confidence, being here every day," Mills said. "The more you come here, the more normal it is. I think when you're going down and coming up from the minors, it's still kind of a shock to be in here, experience these things and be in this environment. But the more you're here, the more normal it gets. Just trying to settle in and be you."

Who knows how much Mills will pitch over the final week-and-a-half of the regular season or what situations he will be tasked with. But he's clearly earning the trust of Maddon and his teammates by answering the bell whenever his name is called.

As for his similarities to Hendricks, Mills is happy to hear his name mentioned in the same light as the 2016 NL ERA champ.

"I definitely look at him and try to pick things up," Mills said. "Every time he throws a bullpen, I'm in there watching. We've talked before. We are similar in that nature, but we are also quite different the way we grip pitches, throw pitches, stuff like that. As far as mindset, we've talked and stuff. 

"It's the highest of compliments for me. That's a guy who's shown that just by being yourself and pitching the way you know how, you can be very successful."


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Yu Darvish makes history, but Cubs lose crucial game

Yu Darvish makes history, but Cubs lose crucial game

Things didn't get off to a great start for Yu Darvish Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, but he managed to right the ship quickly.

After allowing three of the first four batters of the game to score, Darvish struck out 10 of the next 12 Reds that strolled to the plate.

That included a stretch of eight Reds in a row, which set a new Cubs franchise record:

Darvish and Kyle Schwarber (3 hits, 2 RBI) were the only bright spots on the night for the Cubs as they dropped a crucial game 4-2.

The Cardinals also lost, so the Cubs didn't lose any ground in the division, but they did fall to 1.5 games behind the Nationals in the Wild-Card race. Milwaukee won, meaning the Brewers are now tied with the Cubs for the final playoff spot in the National League.

Darvish finished with 13 strikeouts in 7 innings Tuesday night, but gave up all 4 Reds runs.

It makes back-to-back incredible performances from the veteran in the whiff department, as he has 27 strikeouts over his last two starts — second-best in Cubs history:

"I'm in a pretty good place [right now], but still, we lost," he said. "We need wins at this point, so I'm still frustrated."

As the Cubs make their push toward October, Darvish has been right up there with Kyle Hendricks as the most reliable members of the rotation. 

Given the way last year went and his slow start to 2019, the Cubs could not have asked for more from Darvish in the second half of the season while also pitching through some forearm tightness. Since the All-Star Break, the 33-year-old right-hander has a 2.70 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 106 strikeouts against only 7 walks in 73.1 innings.

His performance has been especially huge since veterans Cole Hamels and Jon Lester have struggled to find consistency over the last couple months.

"We're seeing the real version of [Darvish] as a person, not just as a baseball player," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said before Tuesday's game. "I think the comfortability level of him with everybody — the media, the coaching staff, the city, every aspect of it has played into it. 

"When he's in a good place and he's mentally feeling good and physically feeling good and he's comfortable, the sky's the limit with him and what he can do. He's got the freedom here to be more of himself in that we don't put a lot of restrictions on him and what he wants to do. As long as we kinda have the same focus and same goals, we're all on the same team. 

"I feel like he's getting to the point now where he's himself. You see that every time out. He's an ultra competitor; he's an uber planner. His routines are outstanding. He's just ready to go out there and dominate every time he gets the ball."