AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) -- Yu Darvish literally came within inches of perfection.
Darvish was one out from a perfect game when Marwin Gonzalez grounded a clean single through the pitcher's legs, and Texas beat the Houston Astros 7-0 on Tuesday night.
A screen shot of the play showed the ball sail what looked to be less than a foot below the pitcher's glove and into the outfield.
"That was impossible to catch," Darvish said through a translator.
The celebrated right-hander from Japan struck out a career-high 14 and was in complete control before Gonzalez smacked the first pitch he saw up the middle. Darvish was unable to get his glove down in time and the ball skittered into center field well beyond a desperate dive by shortstop Elvis Andrus.
At that moment, one thought went through Darvish's mind.
"I can now go back to the dugout," he deadpanned. "Even if I got the complete game today, it's not going to translate to three or five wins. It's a win. A win's a win."
Darvish smiled and put up his hands -- as if to say, "Oh well, it happens." Texas' infielders quickly came to the mound, and manager Ron Washington joined them.
"I didn't want to be the last out," Gonzalez said. "I was trying to look for a good pitch to hit and put it in play. That's all I was thinking."
Washington patted Darvish on the chest and then signaled for a reliever. A crowd of 22,673 that included plenty of Rangers fans cheered Darvish as he walked off after 111 pitches. He stopped and tipped his cap before getting high-fives from teammates in the dugout. He sat on the bench to watch the rest of the game then joined the handshake line after the final out.
And if Darvish was upset about coming oh so close, he didn't show it.
"I went that far," he said. "I'm really satisfied."
Working from the stretch throughout -- even though he never needed to -- Darvish became the first pitcher to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning since Armando Galarraga on June 2, 2010. Of course, the Detroit pitcher was denied only because of an infamous missed call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce, who later admitted he blew the play.
On the second full day of the major league season, Darvish nearly picked up right where baseball left off last year, when there were a record three perfect games, thrown by Philip Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez.
"He threw all seven of his pitches in, out, up, down and every way you could throw a ball tonight," said Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who caught Humber's perfect game for the White Sox last season. "You get to that point and you start thinking it's going to happen, but it just wasn't meant to be."
Darvish's 14 strikeouts matched a Minute Maid Park record and were the most by a Rangers pitcher since Hall of Famer and current team CEO Nolan Ryan had 14 in July 1991 against the Angels.
Darvish arrived in the majors last year with much fanfare, having already been a five-time All-Star and two-time MVP in Japan. The Rangers paid more than $107 million to get him for five seasons.
The 6-foot-5 righty quickly settled in with Texas, becoming an All-Star last year on the way to going 16-9 with 221 strikeouts. He also once flirted with perfection, retiring the first 17 batters at Kansas City on Sept. 3.
"I think I got lucky today. I felt I pitched better against the Royals last year," Darvish said. "I had better command in that outing."
If he had been able to finish the job Tuesday, it would have been the earliest perfecto in history.
Darvish didn't really need a dazzling play from his defense as he shut down the Astros and chased the 24th perfect game in big league history -- including the one Don Larsen tossed in the 1956 World Series, and two in 1880.
Andrus was disappointed he couldn't get to Gonzalez's single.
"He hit the ball really good right up the middle," Andrus said. "I tried really hard to get to it. I think I dove and it was like 10 feet from me. I was praying that at least his glove would touch it and slow it down, but he hit it pretty hard."
It was almost the second time in 10 months the overmatched Astros failed to put a runner on base. Cain's perfect game for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants came against Houston on June 13 last year.