ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 23: Derek Holland #45 of the Texas Rangers pitches in the second inning during Game Four of the MLB World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 23, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Rangers are in the World Series because their bullpen picked up the slack for their starters throughout the playoffs, but Derek Holland came close to a complete-game shutout as Texas defeated St. Louis, 4-0, to take Game 4.
After the maelstrom of offense in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, you wouldn't have blamed Derek Holland for faking a case of appendicitis. Instead, he came close to his fifth complete-game shutout of the year, throwing 8⅓ innings and leading the Texas Rangers to a 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers have a plethora of good hitters. Up and down the lineup, both teams can stash hitters in the bottom of their orders who would normally hit in the middle of another team's lineup. Mike Napoli was hitting eighth for the Rangers on Sunday night, for example. It was a little silly for him to hit eighth, but it's not like Benji Gil was hitting ahead of him. To borrow a turn of phrase from a famous epicurean, these monsters are stacked.
So the focus was understandably on the offense coming into this series. The Rangers were third in the American League with a 106 OPS+, and the Cardinals blew away the rest of the National League with a 113 OPS+. What was overlooked, though, was that both teams had starting pitchers who had very nice regular seasons. A bunch of them, even. Possibly a plethora as well. You wouldn't know it by the way Ron Washington and Tony La Russa chewed through their bullpens to get to the World Series, but these two teams didn't make it to the playoffs by scoring 1100 runs while allowing 900.
But ever since Chris Carpenter outdueled Roy Halladay in the NLDS, the starting pitching has been pretty shaky for every team that remained in the playoffs. The best performance of either Championship Series came from Doug Fister, with erstwhile aces like Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke struggling to make it through six innings. Neither the Rangers nor Cardinals had a starter go more than six innings in the second round of the playoffs.
Someone was bound to break through and have the outing of the postseason. There were just too many talented pitchers to keep up the five-inning-and-out pace.
Enter Derek Holland.
The first time Holland pitched in a World Series, he had a nightmarish performance that he's probably scrubbed from his waking memory by now. He threw 13 pitches, 12 of them balls. He walked three and all of them came around to score.
On Sunday night, he was almost flawless, allowing two hits, walking two, and striking out seven hitters. He didn't allow a run, and after Lance Berkman doubled with one out in the top of the second inning, he didn't allow another runner past first base. Holland led the AL in complete-game shutouts with four, but he also had eight outings where he allowed five earned runs or more. Game 4 featured Jekyll Holland, and the Cardinals didn't put up much of a threat at any point.
The Rangers jumped out to an early lead when Elvis Andrus singled with one out, and Josh Hamilton doubled him home in the next at-bat. Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson wriggled out of the jam to just allow the one run in the first, and despite control issues, he didn't allow another run through the next four innings.
In the sixth, though, Jackson's command finally disintegrated into a fine powder. After Adrian Beltre flew out, Jackson walked the last two hitters he faced in the game, Nelson Cruz and David Murphy. That brought Mitchell Boggs out from the bullpen to face Mike Napoli, who did this:
Oooooh. The three-run homer put the Rangers up 4-0, and with Holland dominating on the mound, it was more than enough. This would be a good place for a cheap joke at the Angels expense -- something like, if Jeff Mathis were catching tonight, the Rangers still would have won, they just would have won 1-(-2) -- but everyone's tired of bringing up the Vernon Wells trade every time Napoli does something. Well, other people probably are. I'm not.
Neftali Feliz took over with one out in the ninth, walking the first batter he faced before retiring Albert Pujols on a fly ball to center. He started Matt Holliday with three straight balls before striking him out with a fastball to end the game.
The story of the night, though, was Holland, who had one of the best pitching performances in postseason history, against a team that scored 16 runs the night before. He saved a chewed-up bullpen from pitching a single inning, and he tied the World Series at 2-2. This was the kind of fastball he was featuring in the eighth inning:
The Rangers have never been closer to a World Series championship, and they're in a best-of-three situation now, with at least one more game yet to be played in St. Louis.