ARLINGTON, Texas – Parents know the feeling. One glorious day their child grows up right before their eyes. Sometimes it's unexpected. Sometimes it's been a long time coming. It's always delightful.
Fortunately for the Texas Rangers, the day arrived for wispy-mustached, ah-shucks left-handed pitcher Derek Holland(notes) on Sunday in Game 4 of the World Series. Holland, the team's No. 4 starter, had been horrendous in his previous two outings. But he held the St. Louis Cardinals scoreless for 8 1/3 innings, the Rangers won 4-0 and the series is tied at two games apiece for the first time since 2003.
Yes, the same Cardinals that strafed six Rangers pitchers for 16 runs and 15 hits Saturday in Game 3. Holland allowed two hits – both by Lance Berkman(notes) – and retired Albert Pujols(notes) all three times he faced him, the ball never leaving the infield.
Yes, the same Pujols who had perhaps the best offensive performance in series history in Game 3 when he hit three home runs among five hits and drove in six runs.
It was the longest scoreless appearance by an American League starting pitcher in the series since the New York Yankees' Andy Pettitte(notes) went 8 1/3 scoreless innings against the Atlanta Braves in 1996.
"Growing up as a kid I wanted to pitch in the World Series," Holland said. "I idolized Andy Pettitte and wanted to be like him. … I wanted to redeem myself and show I belonged here."
Rangers manager Ron Washington has said Holland is a pony who someday would become a thoroughbred. Someday arrived just in time.
"He was a thoroughbred tonight," Washington said. "If you followed him in his career, he's not always been that. Tonight, he showed the world what he's capable of. He stayed in control and executed his pitches.
"He worked 'em up, down, all around."
Two teams that combined for 28 hits and 23 runs 24 hours earlier settled into a pitchers' duel between Holland and Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson(notes), who walked seven but pitched out of multiple jams until exiting with two on and one out in the sixth inning. Only an RBI double by the Rangers' Josh Hamilton(notes) in the first kept the game from being scoreless to that point.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa displayed extreme patience with Jackson, knowing that his own bullpen had been overtaxed during a postseason pocked with quick hooks. He's called upon relievers 61 times in 15 postseason games, one short of the record set by the 2002 San Francisco Giants.
La Russa finally went to reliever Mitchell Boggs(notes) after Jackson walked Nelson Cruz(notes) and David Murphy(notes) with one out in the sixth, and one pitch later regretted it: Mike Napoli(notes) drove a high fastball into the left-field seats, extending the Rangers' lead to 4-0.
Holland sailed through the seventh and eighth innings but with one out in the ninth walked Rafael Furcal(notes). Washington went to the mound and when Holland begged him to remain in the game, the manager said he'd have to get on his knees. "He walked off the mound," Washington said, laughing.
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Closer Neftali Feliz(notes) came on and after walking Allen Craig(notes) retired Pujols on a flyout to center field and Matt Holliday(notes) on a swinging strike three, enabling the Rangers to keep a somewhat obscure yet remarkable streak intact: They haven't lost two games in a row since Aug. 25.
"We understand what happens when we lose and know what we have to do to get back on track," Washington said.
Holland pitched four shutouts during the regular season – tying James Shields(notes) for the most in the American League – and posted a 16-5 record, including winning 10 of his last 11 decisions. The Rangers knew he was capable of dominating. That success was becoming a dim memory, however. He lasted only 4 2/3 innings and 2 2/3 innings in two AL Championship Series starts, allowing seven runs, including four home runs.
His maturity was quietly questioned. Holland turned 25 two weeks ago, yet he seems younger because of the thin mustache he wears with pride and the titanium-laced Phiten necklace that dangles loosely around his neck.
Still, he is the pride of Newark (Ohio) High School, which held a Derek Holland Day a week ago, selling T-shirts that said "The Stache" on them. No doubt, any high school sophomore could appreciate Holland's fuzz.
"This is huge for Newark," he said. "I know I've got a lot of people back home watching and cheering for me. So I'm happy for what I've got and blessed for all that. I feel like I'm not only representing Newark, but I'm also representing Texas."
The Rangers established early on that they wouldn't leak easy runs the way they did in Game 3 when they made three errors and left pitches up in the strike zone for Pujols and Co. to pummel. Third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes) made a leaping backhanded stab of a line drive by Rafael Furcal to begin the game, and made a nice play on Matt Holliday's ground ball to end the fourth.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler(notes) saved a run in the second by making a backhanded play on a shot up the middle by Molina with Lance Berkman on second. By the end, the sellout crowd roared its appreciation.
"That was the loudest I've ever heard the crowd," Holland said. "It made my arm hair stand up. It gave me a tingly feeling."
How important was Holland's opus and the Rangers' victory? A year ago they entered Game 4 of the World Series trailing the San Francisco Giants two games to one. They lost 4-0, and the series was over day later, the Giants crowned series champions.
A year later, same score, yet a Rangers win, assuring that the World Series will return to St. Louis for at least a Game 6.
That's growth. Right before our eyes. Thank Holland for the delightful development.
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