CHICAGO — About an hour before Monday night’s first pitch, a tornado warning went into effect on Chicago’s north side. Sirens wailed across Wrigleyville and fans took cover inside the arena.
But before the torrential rains came, Yu Darvish, who was set to start for the Padres, stayed on field and ran through a series of sections near the warning lane in right field.
At that moment, ahead of his first start at Wrigley Field since the December 2020 trade that sent him to San Diego, Darvish took some time to think. He had signed a six-year contract with the Cubs prior to the 2018 season. He hit some highs in Chicago — including a second place finish at the Cy Young Award in 20. He also suffered some low lows — triceps and elbow injuries in 2018 that ended his season early after just eight games and a 4.95 ERA
So while tens of thousands ducked for cover at Wrigley Field, Darvish decided he wanted to take it all in for a minute or two.
“To be honest, it was a bit of a sentimental moment for me,” Darvish said afterwards. “The tornado warning came in and everyone left. The fans left the stands. It was like a moment between me and Wrigley Field.”
After a one hour and 25 minute delay, Darvish reminded Wrigley supporters exactly what they are missing out on. The experienced right-hander excelled (again) in the Padres’ 4-1 win over the Cubs on Monday night. He threw eight innings with one-run ball, hitting out seven and allowing five hits.
“Obviously, this is a place where a lot has happened for me — or a lot has happened to me,” Darvish said. “But at the end of the day, I’m really grateful to be here and pitching.”
Yan Gomes’ solo homer in the second inning was Darvish’s only real miss of the night, a hanging slider that ended in the left field pitches. From then on, Darvish was virtually untouchable against his former team. He used a tried and tested formula that they should know well in Chicago. He went on the cutter early and just as the Cubs hitters might have picked up that spin – he blew his high-octane, four-seam fastball right past them.
Then, at the crucial moment of the game, Darvish reached into his bag of tricks. With two outs and the tie on the plate in the eighth inning, he went 2-1 against Cubs left fielder Ian Happ and then threw a dirty 91-mph splinter just under the strike zone.
“One of my best pitches tonight,” Darvish said.
Happ swung and missed. Darvish hopped off the hill and let out a cry. An inning later, Taylor Rogers slammed the door to a 38-24 start for the Padres, their best in franchise history and good enough to put them in a virtual tie for first place in the National League West.
After that, the Padres decided to keep things in perspective.
“We’ve got 100 more,” said Jake Cronenworth, who went 3-on-4. “That is much.”
This overall view has become an issue in San Diego. The collapse of 2021 is still fresh in everyone’s mind. In fact, no one in the Padres’ clubhouse seemed even aware that they were tied for the division lead.
“We’re just worried about ourselves,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer. “…We’re sticking with the things we’re good at and we think we’ll be at the top of that ranking by the end of the year.”
In fact, there’s reason to believe the Padres’ preseason success is more sustainable this time around. This is mainly due to their seven-deep starting rotation.
Joe Musgrove has been the Padres’ undisputed ace this season. But remove a San Francisco start from the equation, and Darvish was a close second. He lowered his ERA to 3.35 Monday night. Without that nine-run blip against the Giants, it would be 2.20.
“It’s really difficult to come up with a plan against him because he has so many pitches that move in so many different ways,” Hosmer said. “As a hitter, it’s a nightmare.”
Acting manager Ryan Flaherty said: “He’s got so many guns and so many different shapes, balls and fastballs to break, he’s really just a wizard with the ball.”
Not that anyone in Chicago needed a reminder. You’ve seen it here before. And when the rain stopped and the skies calmed down on Monday night, old Yu Darvish was back at Wrigley Field, this time in just brown.