Rounding Third: Sizzling Darvish serves notice for Rangers

As good as Clayton Kershaw was on Opening Day, Texas' Yu Darvish was even better on Tuesday night in Houston.

A trendy preseason pick to win this year's American League Cy Young Award, Darvish lived up to the early hype, as he came within an eyelash of becoming the 24th pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game.

Marwin Gonzalez, though, spoiled the fun when his two-out single in the ninth inning went through the legs of Darvish and into center field, just beyond the glove of shortstop Elvis Andrus.

"I was praying he could at least slow it down or touch it, knock it my way so I could do something," Andrus said. "I was going to see if I could dive for it, but it was a hard ground ball. There was nothing I could do."

Darvish, who became the first Texas pitcher to lose a no-no with two outs in the ninth, was amazing as he struck out a career-high 14 batters over 111 pitches. By the way, the 14 strikeouts were the most by Rangers pitcher since Nolan Ryan fanned 14 back in 1991.

Amazingly, this is the ninth time in his first 30 major league starts Darvish has struck out at least 10 batters in a game.

Texas skipper Ron Washington wasted little time getting him after Gonzalez reached.

"When he's throwing a perfect game, you want to let him get through it," Washington said. "If he had walked a guy or given up a hit, he was coming out. I'm glad it was a hit. If it was a walk, there would be darts in my back."

Not that anyone is worth the $100-plus million the Rangers paid to have Darvish in Arlington, but the Japanese superstar has held up his end of the bargain. Well, at least more so than Daisuke Matsuzaka did in his six years with the Boston Red Sox.

Darvish, who allowed just three runs in 13 2/3 innings this spring, also got off to a sizzling start last April when he went 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA over five starts. Of course, That translated into an All-Star campaign, and one that saw him get better as the year wore on.

Over his final eight starts, Darvish went 5-1 and pitched to a 2.35 ERA.

Although, he lost the one-game playoff game to the Baltimore Orioles, Darvish seems to have carried that strong regular-season finish into this year.

Even without Josh Hamilton, the Texas Rangers are going to score some runs. A lot of people are sleeping on them getting back to the postseason for a fourth straight season because of concerns in their starting rotation.

Darvish may have eased a lot of people's minds on Tuesday. And at the same time scared a lot of people in Anaheim and Oakland.

Here are a few other thoughts from Opening Day:

* CLAYTON KERSHAW IS GOING TO GET PAID: We will probably touch on this sooner rather than later, but with all these long-term contract extensions flying around, how long is it going to be before the Los Angeles Dodgers pay Kershaw? The 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner was brilliant on Monday, as he tossed a four- hit shutout and even helped his own cause with the first home run of his career. The deals for Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander are the template, but if the Dodgers wait any longer and Kershaw wins another Cy Young Award, he may very well command $200 million.

* THE NATIONALS ARE GOING TO BE FUN: Well, now we know why there is such optimism in the nation's capital. As it pertains to baseball, that is. Washington's stars shined brightest on Opening Day, as Bryce Harper homered in his first two at-bats and Stephen Strasburg started his first restriction-free season by tossing seven scoreless innings. You also got a glimpse as to why Harper may not be universally loved around the league. After hitting the home runs in his first two at-bats, the 20-year-old phenom showed bunt his third time up.

* THE YANKEES OFFENSE IS GOING TO BE BAD: Maybe all the preseason doom and gloomers were right about the New York Yankees. The Yankees looked awful at the plate on Monday with a lineup that included the likes of Eduardo Nunez, Lyle Overbay, Ben Francisco, Vernon Wells and Francisco Cervelli. Not exactly Murderers' Row. Case and point: The Yankees had runners on first and second with no outs at one point, but the heart of the order - Nunez, Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis - struck out to end the threat. Speaking of Cano, the All- Star second baseman fired agent Scott Boras, opting to go with Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports. That has to be a good sign for the Yankees, right? By the way, Roc Nation Sports is going to become a big deal. Like he says, Jay Z is not a businessman, he's a business, man.

* NOT THE START THE REDS WANTED: It wasn't bad enough that the Cincinnati Reds dropped their Opening Day marathon with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but they may have lost something far worse when cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick left the game with a dislocated shoulder. Ludwick will undergo surgery Wednesday and miss at least the next three months. Now everyone in the Emerald City is clamoring for speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton, but they are going to be disappointed. The Reds aren't calling him up. Chris Heisey will fill in for Ludwick in the outfield in the interim, while Brandon Phillips will likely inherit Ludwick's spot in the order.