ARLINGTON - As Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish was wrapping up more than 10 minutes of questions from American and Japanese media following his first MLB start, catcher Mike Napoli entered the interview room Monday night wearing a "Yu is my Homeboy" t-shirt with his new teammate's picture on it.
Judging from the crowd reactions Monday night, Darvish has a lot of new homeboys in Texas. In fact, it sounded like he was rolling about 40,000-deep when he walked off the mound following his inconsistent-but-promising first showing.
And that's great news if you want to see Darvish become the ace the Rangers were envisioning when scouting him for years in Japan.
He had a suspect start Monday, walking the first batter he faced in four pitches, loading the bases twice and walking in a run as the Mariners jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the 42-pitch inning.
"When I stepped on the mound for the first time, I was very calm," Darvish said through a translator after the game. "I felt very calm, and mentally I was calm. But my body felt like it wanted to go and go and go. So I think in the beginning of the game, my mind and my body kind of [weren't] on the same page."
It led to Darvish allowing four hits, two walks and a wild pitch in the first.
However, even after the ugly start, he walked to the dugout to a chorus of "Yu's" from the crowd.
Darvish again had trouble in the second, allowing two hard-hit doubles and another run to come in. The 6-foot-5 righty walked to the dugout to another serenade of "Yu's," though one could be forgiven for confusing them for a moment with boos.
After all, it's not often you'll hear fans giving it up for a pitcher who just gave up five runs over two innings. Also rare for inexperienced major league pitchers, Darvish hung in and rewarded their confidence. He gave up two singles, hit one Mariner and walked one other (while striking out two) and allowed no runs over the final three-and-two-thirds innings he pitched.
"If [he] gets strike one, Yu can do whatever he wants," Napoli said. "With the type of stuff he has, he can be pretty special if he gets strike one. And he started doing that as the outing went on and hat's off to him. He kept us in the game."
That was the only hat off of the night, as Darvish said he didn't realize American pitchers usually tip their cap to a standing ovation when leaving the mound. It was a small moment of metaphor that showed how Darvish is close, but not exactly perfect, as it pertains to transitioning to the American game.
But as importantly, it showed how badly Rangers fans want Darvish to succeed.
It wasn't a brilliant start, but fans gave Darvish a booming standing ovation - the loudest of the night - as he left the game. Hopefully that incredible support for a so-so start shows the fans will have patience with Darvish's development, which is certain to have a few growing pains this year.
If former staff ace C.J. Wilson had put up that start last year, there would have been no standing ovation waiting. In fact, that 40-pitch first probably would have led to Wilson raking himself over the coals in his post-game comments.
But this is a different club.
There is no ace this year - the front office is doing everything it can to keep the fans from thinking of Darvish that way. But if you see Jon Daniels or Nolan Ryan fighting back a grin, it may be because they know they've got one developing, pitch-by-pitch and inning-by-inning.
And if the fans chant a player's name like they just witnessed a perfect game after a far-from-perfect start, you can bet they're cheering for the future, not the present. That patience, if it holds, will do wonders for Darvish's psyche and ease his adjustment.
So, Yu Darvish isn't the Rangers' ace this year - he's their homeboy. It just so happens, homeboy can pitch.