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Cubs 5, Rangers 1: Yu Darvish, Kris Bryant lead Cubs to win

This felt more like a regular-season game.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

SURPRISE, Arizona — Tell the truth. You were looking for another Yu Darvish pun in the headline to this recap.

Not today, not for a random spring training game. Gotta save the good ones for the regular season.

Darvish threw six excellent innings and was backed up by a three-run homer from Kris Bryant, his first of the spring, and the Cubs defeated the Rangers 5-1 in front of a crowd that was probably 80 percent Cubs fans.

The Cubs put across a run in the first inning. They loaded the bases on two singles and a walk and Kyle Schwarber drove in the run with a sac fly.

Then Schwarber showed off his new form in left field. In the bottom of the inning, Joey Gallo singled and Elvis Andrus laced a ball just out of Bryant’s reach that seemed headed for the left-field corner. Schwarber raced after it — I mean that, raced, took an excellent route, and fired to Javier Baez, whose relay cut down Gallo at the plate:

All three parts of that play were outstanding: Schwarber’s route and throw, Baez’s relay and Willson Contreras’ tag. We should see more of that during the 2018 season, I’d think.

Baez singled in the third with oune out and one out later, Ian Happ bunted his way on. That brought up Bryant:

That ball was crushed — I’d estimate 420-430 feet.

Schwarber finished up the Cubs scoring leading off the third:

By that time, all the Cubs baserunners off beleaguered Rangers starter Matt Moore (11 runners before he was mercifully removed by manager Jeff Banister — eight hits, two walks and a hit batter) had this game almost at an hour’s length by the time Schwarber hit his homer.

And then Darvish took over. Rangers catcher Juan Centeno homered off Darvish leading off the bottom of the third, but then Darvish retired the next 12 hitters he faced, ending up with seven strikeouts without a walk. He was utterly dominant. After he left the game he walked out to the bullpen to a loud ovation, and then threw about 20 more pitches. I happened to be lucky enough to have a seat right behind the Cubs bullpen for this game, so I took this short video of Darvish’s post-outing session:

There were, as you can imagine, quite a few kids (mostly Cubs fans) hanging around hoping someone would toss them a ball, or even sign one. When Steve Cishek finished his warmup, before entering the game, he looked right at me and tossed me a ball, I suppose because I was wearing Cubs gear. I gave it to a kid who had been standing next to me the entire game, because really, that’s what baseball should be about, getting kids excited about this great game. The kid and his dad were both appreciative.

When Darvish was finished with his post-outing warmup he sat down with the rest of the pitchers in the bullpen. A kid standing on my other side yelled out, “Mr. Darvish! Please sign my ball!” (Points for politeness!) Darvish turned and said in flawless, unaccented English: “Not during the game.” Which you can understand.

Back to the game itself now: Cishek retired all five hitters he faced in the seventh and eighth, helped out by a nice grab by Wynton Bernard in right field and a slick play by Ryan Court at second. With two out in the eighth Joe brought in Carl Edwards Jr., again likely to simulate a regular season game situation. C.J. looked good, striking out the first hitter he faced and then retiring the side in order in the ninth. The last 21 Rangers went down in order after Centeno’s homer — after nearly an hour into the third, the last six and a half innings took only 90 minutes, and the ride back from Surprise just a bit over an hour, which is almost unheard-of in rush hour.

I’d like about 100 more games just like this one during the regular season, thankyouverymuch.

Thursday, the Cubs will take on the Giants at Scottsdale in another night game. Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs and Chris Stratton for the Giants. Game time is 9:05 p.m. CT. Audio coverage is via and the Giants TV network NBC Sports Bay Area will carry the game, which will be available via online.