HOUSTON -- Yu Darvish missed one start in Spring Training because of a stiff neck and never threw more than 78 pitches in any outing. That's why the Rangers were hoping to get a maximum of 100 pitches out of him in his first start against the Astros on Tuesday night. A blister on his ring finger added to the concern.
The Rangers let Darvish throw 111 pitches only because he was chasing a perfect game. Once that quest ended, Darvish was removed from the game. The perfect game came to an end when Marwin Gonzalez singled with two outs in the ninth.
That's when manager Ron Washington pulled Darvish for Michael Kirkman. Washington also said he would have pulled Darvish if he had walked a batter instead of giving up a hit. Darvish was given pitch-count leeway for the perfect game but not a no-hitter.
"Once perfection was over, I was bringing in somebody else and hope they finished it for us," Washington said. "It was understood from the eighth inning on, a base hit and that was it. I kept the walk part to myself."
The Rangers said Darvish will stick to his routine and be ready to start on Sunday against the Angels. The blister is not expected to be a lingering problem.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux said Darvish was probably done after seven innings. Maddux said the most impressive thing about Darvish's performance was the ability to keep pitching after that point.
"He reached down when he was out of gas and had the ability to still make pitches," Maddux said. "Overall, the sharpness of everything he threw and the execution of his game plan were really good."
The Rangers were watching Darvish's pitch count all night. The one thing that allowed Darvish to stay in the game was he didn't have one particular inning where he threw a high number of pitches. His high for one inning was 18. If not for his setback in Spring Training, 111 pitches would not have been out of the ordinary for Darvish. He threw at least 110 pitches in 18 of 29 starts last season, with a high of 123.
"It's all about how you arrive at the number," Maddux said. "The innings weren't stressful. The situation was, but the innings weren't. He was in complete control, a pretty dominating performance.
"I thought it was very gritty. He was out of gas after seven, but he admitted the situation gets you to find that extra to pull you through it. The crowd was on his side. He said he was getting energy from the crowd."
Washington said he would not have let Darvish talk him out of pulling him from the game.
"No -- I don't understand Japanese," Washington said. "Once I come out of the dugout, that's it. Only two guys could talk me out of it ... [Kevin] Millwood and Cliff Lee. Everybody else has got to go."
Berkman continues with strong start at plate
HOUSTON -- The Rangers got their first indication of what Lance Berkman can do in the No. 3 spot in a lineup during their three-game series against the Astros.
Berkman, signed in the off-season to be the Rangers designated hitter, didn't light up scoreboard with a massive display of firepower against his former team. He just put together the kind of at-bats the Rangers are looking for this season.
Berkman, who played 12 seasons with the Astros, was 1-for-2 with two walks, a run scored and an RBI during Wednesday's 4-0 victory at Minute Maid Park. He was 6-for-10 with two walks and three RBIs during the three-game series.
"Obviously it's much nicer to get off to a good start rather than struggle but we have a long way to go," Berkman said. "I'm trying not to get too excited about it or read much into it but it was nice."
Berkman was involved in both Rangers rallies on Wednesday. In a scoreless game, he led off the sixth with a walk against Astros starter Philip Humber. After singles by Adrian Beltre and David Murphy loaded the bases, Nelson Cruz grounded into a double play that brought home Berkman with the first run of the game.
In the eighth, Elvis Andrus led off the inning with a single and scored on Berkman's double. It was his first extra basehit with the Rangers. Julio Borbon replaced him as a pinch-runner and the Rangers added two more runs that inning.
"That's what I expected ... he's a pro," manager Ron Washington said. "He certainly knows what he's doing in that box. He has done it before. It's not like he's a new kid."
Teammates inspired by Darvish's near-perfect night
HOUSTON -- Two of Yu Darvish's rotation mates said they were inspired after watching his terrific performance against the Astros on Tuesday. Matt Harrison watched the final inning from the top of the dugout and was visibly angry when Marwin Gonzalez broke up the perfect-game bid with a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth.
"To experience something like that, it was unbelievable to watch," Harrison said. "He was on top of his game from the beginning. You almost wish it had been the first batter to get the hit. It's tough to lose a perfect game. He took it well, better than I thought he would. Anytime you see a teammate do something like that, you get inspired. It makes you want to be a better pitcher, be as good as that guy. That was a lot of fun to watch."
This was the fourth time in Rangers history that a pitcher lost a no-hitter in the ninth. Charlie Hough lost one against the Angels in 1986, and Nolan Ryan lost two to the Blue Jays and Tigers in '89. All three of those ended with one out.
"One of the greatest games I've ever see," pitcher Derek Holland said. "To really see that motivates you. What Darvish did was unbelievable. I don't care who it is against, a perfect game is not something that easily happens."
Moreland makes pivotal play in Darvish's perfect-game quest
HOUSTON -- First baseman Mitch Moreland made the play to remember if Yu Darvish had completed his quest for a perfect game on Tuesday night.
With one out in the fifth, Rick Ankiel pulled a soft line drive to the right side. Moreland moved quickly to his right and jumped to snag the ball. It was the closest the Astros came to getting a hit before the ninth inning, and it would have been the defensive play everybody talked about afterwards if Darvish had thrown a perfect game.
"I had to move a little bit, but he didn't hit it very well," Moreland said. "I don't know if he either got jammed or hit it off the end of the bat, but I was able to get to it."
The only other close call was also in the fifth. Chris Carter led off the inning with a high drive to deep left, but David Murphy had plenty of time to get it. He caught it almost up against the wall in left-center field.
"There really weren't a whole lot of tough plays, as dominating as he was," Moreland said. "That's the most dominating performance I've ever seen."
• Craig Gentry was 2-for-4 with a double and triple on Tuesday, but Leonys Martin started in center on Wednesday. Manager Ron Washington said Gentry will start on Friday in the home opener against the Angels with left-hander Jason Vargas on the mound.
• Elvis Andrus had two triples in Tuesday's victory over the Astros. It's the ninth time that has happened in club history and the first since Michael Young on Sept. 3, 2002.
• The Rangers' three triples were one short of the club set on July 26, 1973, against the Angels. The opposing starting pitcher was Nolan Ryan, who gave up triples to Vic Harris and Larry Biittner. Reliever Steve Barber gave up the other pair to Alex Johnson and Jim Spencer.
• Rangers pitchers struck out 13 batters on Opening Day and 15 more on Tuesday night. That's the most by a Major League team in the first two games of the season. They join the 2001 Diamondbacks as the first team to strike out at least 13 in the first two games.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.