Attention was drawn to Arlington, Tex., on Thursday night for a duel between two of the best pitchers in the world, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander and the Rangers’ Yu Darvish. The matchup fizzled quickly, as Verlander was lifted with two outs in the third inning. Darvish was touched up early but ended up working deep into the game while racking up 130 pitches.
The two combined to throw 10 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts, three walks, 13 hits and 12 runs (all earned) in a 10-4 Rangers win. Not exactly what everyone was expecting. It was disappointing result for a such a pairing of elite pitchers.
Pitching matchups of the quality of Verlander vs. Darvish are somewhat unusual. Using Davrish’s rookie season as a point of reference, I found an impressive list of pitchers who had done at least as well. Since the 1800s, 98 pitchers have accounted for 191 seasons statistically equal to or better than Darvish’s 2012 season. Of the 43 to turn in more than one such season, Randy Johnson’s eight lead the way. Johan Santana’s four are most among active pitchers, followed by Verlander, Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez with three apiece.
Just 15 head-to-head matchups between pitchers on the Darvish-or-better list have happened since 1997. Like Thursday, the results have often been a disappointment with a notable exception: Kevin Brown vs. Randy Johnson.
Johnson and Brown matched up in 1999 and in 2000, with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks splitting a pair of 2-1 victories. Brown got the win in 1999 with Big Unit taking a tough loss. Neither figured in the decision in 2000. Over the two games, the aces combined for 31 innings, 37 strikeouts, eight walks, 25 hits and five runs allowed (four earned).
The 2012 season saw a glut of big-name matchups. CC Sabathia and James Shields faced off twice, Shields went up against Verlander and, most attractively, Cliff Lee faced Clayton Kershaw .
In that July game, Lee and Kershaw each worked eight innings. The Dodgers prevailed over the Phillies in 12 innings, nearly obscuring the impressive dual than took place during regulation. In 16 combined innings the aces struck out 11 batters and walked just one. A total of seven hits resulted in a 1-1 score when the relievers took over.
We should keep looking forward to big pitching duals when they get set up, but we should also avoid using these moments as an opportunity to be disapointed. Baseball is funny that way.