If Darvish had been able to finish the job Tuesday, it would have been the earliest perfecto in history.
He 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.
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.
Many expect the Astros to be the worst team in the majors this year, after two straight 100-loss seasons and a major league-low payroll of just under $22 million. But they cruised to an 8-2 win over Texas in the major league opener and their American League debut Sunday night.
The 26-year-old Darvish carried over a strong showing in spring training this year into near perfection in his first regular-season start. The Astros looked totally lost against him, often taking wild swings at breaking balls that bounced.
With the crowd on its feet and a mixture of cheers and “Yuuus” filling Minute Maid Park, Chris Carter took Darvish to a full count before striking out on the ninth pitch of the at-bat for the first out of the eighth inning.
Rick Ankiel followed by striking out and Justin Maxwell hit an easy grounder to second baseman Ian Kinsler.
Darvish looked toward the sky for a couple of seconds before retreating to the dugout.
He began the ninth by getting two easy groundouts before Gonzalez ruined his bid for perfection. The 24-year-old Gonzalez made his big league debut last year, hitting .234 in 80 games for Houston.
Darvish, who played seven professional seasons in Japan before joining the Rangers, set rookie franchise records for wins (16) and strikeouts (221) last season. He finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Mike Trout and Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.