Baseball: Darvish denied rare perfect game

Texas Rangers' Japanese hurler Yu Darvish came within one out of pitching a rare perfect game on Tuesday, retiring 26 batters before surrendering a ninth-inning single to Houston's Marwin Gonzalez.

Darvish struck out 14 in a 7-0 victory, but his bid for a slice of Major League Baseball history was foiled by Gonzalez, who smacked a single up the middle that rolled between the pitcher's legs.

Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus couldn't stop it either, and with Gonzalez on base Darvish -- who had thrown 111 pitches -- was relieved by Michael Kirkman.

"I think my teammates were more disappointed than I was," said Darvish, who left the field to an ovation from the crowd of 22,637.

"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."

Ian Kinsler hit a two-run home run for Texas, who notched 12 hits.

Lance Berkman had two runs batted in while Nelson Cruz, Andrus and Mitch Moreland drove in a run each in Texas's first win of the fledgling season.

Darvish struck out nine of the first 12 batters he faced and baffled the Astros with a blistering fastball and an array of breaking balls.

He got valuable support in the fifth inning when Houston's Chris Carter led off with a fly to deep left that David Murphy caught against the wall.

"I thought it was a home run," Darvish said.

The Astros' Rick Ankiel followed with a line drive that Moreland grabbed before Darvish struck out Justin Maxwell to end the inning.

It marked the ninth time in his first 30 Major League starts that Darvish has struck out at least 10 in a game.

In the bottom of the ninth, Darvish induced Jason Castro and Carlos Corporan to ground out before Gonazalez ended his night.

"You look at the stuff that he was featuring tonight, and it would not have been a shock to anyone in the ballpark if he threw a perfect game," Astros Manager Bo Porter said.

Darvish's narrow miss of the perfect game left Hideo Nomo, who did it twice, as the only Japanese-born pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the US Major Leagues.

There have been just 23 perfect games -- a victory in which no opposing player reaches base -- in Major League Baseball history.

A record three of them came last season. The Chicago White Sox's Philip Humber accomplished the feat on April 21 of last year against Seattle while San Francisco's Matt Cain pitched a perfect game against Houston on June 13. Felix Hernandez tossed a perfect game for the Seattle Mariners against Tampa Bay on August 15.

Darvish became the first pitcher to miss out on a perfect game at the last out in the ninth since Armando Galarraga on June 2, 2010. Galarraga was denied on a notorious botched umpire's call.