Performer of the Game: Rangers lefty Holland
Hurler puts himself in rare company with 8 1/3 shutout innings
ARLINGTON -- Before Derek Holland took the mound Sunday night for Game 4 of the World Series, Rangers manager Ron Washington was in his face, giving his 25-year-old left-hander a good talking to, punctuating it with a loving slap on the cheek.
"It was just a general message that he's capable of going out there and keeping us in the ballgame. That's all it was," Washington would say later.
Before Holland left that mound with the packed house at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington standing and cheering, it was clear Holland had done much more than Washington had asked, pitching 8 1/3 brilliant and historic innings that led the Rangers to a critical 4-0 victory to knot up the Series, 2-2.
And there was Washington again, well inside Holland's personal space, delivering another message while Holland pleaded his case to go after the final two outs of a magnificent outing.
Spin to Win
"He was begging," said Washington, who turned the game over to Neftali Feliz, much to the crowd's displeasure. "I just told him, 'If you want to stay out here, get on your knees.' He walked off the field."
Said Holland: "I was begging, as he said. I didn't get on my knees. But he was like, 'No, you ain't going in there, son.'"
In between his two face-to-face meetings with his beloved manager, Holland matured as a pitcher, becoming an October ace right before our very eyes and on baseball's biggest stage.
Earlier this postseason, Washington said the 6-foot-2, 193-pound Holland was still a pony, yet to become a thoroughbred. He might not be the finished product, but completely dominating a stacked Cardinals lineup is certainly a giant leap in the right direction.
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One thing is certain: Holland was the biggest man in the yard Sunday night, giving a Cardinals team that had battered Rangers pitching the night before a lesson in respecting the powerful combination of youth and talent.
Along the way, Holland became the first American League pitcher to pitch 8 1/3 scoreless innings in a World Series game since Andy Pettitte -- Holland's boyhood idol -- did so in Game 5 of the 1996 Fall Classic. He's also the first pitcher to go at least 8 1/3 innings in a World Series game while allowing two or fewer hits since Nelson Briles in 1971, and just the 18th pitcher in Series history to take a shutout that far.
"Considering the circumstances, this is probably the best-pitched game this organization has ever seen," said Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler.
After so much talk about his youthful energy getting the best of him too often, a lot of it coming directly from him, Holland turned his World Series starting debut into a rite of passage. Consider Holland fully grown now -- well, as long as you don't look too closely at the mustache.
He'd had a memorably rough debut in the World Series a year ago, throwing 12 balls and one strike in relief, and entered Sunday's start with a 5.27 postseason ERA for 2011. But in throwing 118 pitches and striking out seven Cardinals batters while walking two, Holland basked in the October spotlight like few before him have.
"I wanted to show that I belong here, that was the main thing," Holland said. "I wanted to make a name out of myself, and at the same time, I wanted to get momentum back on our side. That was the big thing. I knew it was a big game, so I knew I had to step up. So I made sure I could do everything to do that."
Using a fastball that was still working the corners at 95 mph in the ninth inning and spotting a deadly curve, Holland only allowed a single and a double to Cardinals graybeard Lance Berkman, who was plenty impressed.
"Sometimes you just have to say, look, that guy was awesome tonight, and tip your hat and move on. It was just a great, great performance," Berkman said.
Before it began, Washington delivered the type of pep talk you might see on a football sideline or the corner of a boxing ring, putting his hands on Holland's shoulders and asking him to keep the Rangers in the game and work inside without hitting any batters.
It's something Washington had done before with his talented lefty, but the world was watching this time.
"He does that a lot," Holland said. "He cares about his players. He is a very motivational coach. He gets into the game, as you guys have seen. He's like a track superstar in the dugout.
"But he's really into it every time and he shows that he cares about every single one of our players. And he definitely showed that today when he had a nice little talk with me."
Flush with confidence and channeling his energy and emotions, Holland was on his game from the very first pitch, retiring 12 of the first 13 batters he faced and marching right through the game, retiring 12 of his last 14.
"He never got out of control, so I really didn't have to calm him down or do anything different," said catcher Mike Napoli, credited by Washington for guiding Holland's stellar effort. "From pitch one he was the same, and he was throwing strikes and made his adjustments when he needed to. So I really didn't have to do too much of relaxing him or going out there and talking to him."
By the ninth, Holland was still pumping his fastball up to the mid-90s and was looking to become the first AL pitcher to throw a World Series shutout since Minnesota's Jack Morris in 1991.
But after walking Rafael Furcal to bring Washington to the mound, Holland had done his job, and then some -- to absolutely no one's surprise in the Rangers' dugout. After all, he matched Tampa Bay's James Shields with an AL-leading four shutouts this season and won 10 of his last 11 decisions down the stretch.
But this was a whole new level in the growth of Holland.
"He's been doing it all year, and a lot of that is not letting the last couple of starts affecting what he's capable of doing," said Rangers right-hander and rotation elder statesman Colby Lewis. "He showed tonight exactly what he's capable of doing on this stage. He's got that type of stuff, and I'm super proud of him."
Said Washington: "I've seen it before. This is not the first dominant outing that Derek Holland has had. He's had three or four for us all year. It's in him, and tonight he brought it out when we needed it the most."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.