When the Rangers lost Game 3 in Arlington, they knew the home-field advantage that they had gained with a dramatic comeback in Game 2 was now gone. But they could not afford to fall behind 3-1. The list of teams that have managed to win a series, let alone the World Series, needing three straight victories is not very long.
Derek Holland pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 4 of the World Series against St. Louis.
So the Rangers' hopes of evening the World Series and ending any possible Cardinals' momentum following Albert Pujols' three-homer performance in Game 3 rested on the left arm of Derek Holland.
Before Game 4, cameras caught manager Ron Washington with both hands on the shoulders of Holland. It was about a 60-second speech and one designed to instill confidence in the left-handed pitcher, who had struggled at times in the postseason (5.27 ERA coming into the game) after such a solid second half of the 2011 season.
"The big thing was he was talking to me, motivating me more than anything," Holland said after the game. "He said, ‘I know what your game plan is and you’re going to go in to hitters. Just don’t be hitting anybody.’ He was telling me to stay in control, be relaxed and I’d be fine."
Holland listened and then went out to the mound and pitched brilliantly when his team needed it the most. He threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings and was rarely in any big jams. It helped that third baseman Adrian Beltre snagged a liner off the bat of Rafael Furcal, taking away a possible double down the left-field line. That seemed to calm Holland and there weren't many balls hit hard off him after that.
Catcher Mike Napoli made sure Holland threw all of his pitches in the first, including a slider, change up and curve. All of them were working and Holland had firm command of the strike zone. The Rangers scored four runs for him, but Holland only needed one.
"He was a thoroughbred tonight," Washington said. "He did what we needed. We needed him to go out there and pitch well and he did. He showed the world what he’s capable of doing. Now we’ve just got to find that capability every time he takes the baseball."
Washington went out to the mound to get Holland once a runner got on in the ninth inning despite a four-run lead.
“He’s like, ‘Nope, you ain’t going out there son,’” said Holland, doing his impersonation of Washington after the game. “I said, ‘Come on, Wash. You got to let me go. I can get this. I’m going to try to get a double play and do everything I can.
“He said, ‘Nope, you ain’t getting out there. Just watch the crowd reaction when you get out of here, son.’ I said, ‘All right, I’ll see you later Wash. Thanks.’”
Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan was very impressed by what he saw. He called it the biggest game of Holland's career.
"And it's the biggest game of our organization," Ryan said. "He stepped up and it says volumes about where he's come in his maturity. I still think that there will be growing and developing with Derek."
What it meant: The Rangers made sure they stayed in the series and ended up winning Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead back to Busch Stadium. Things didn't go as planned in a Game 6 that was one of the greatest ever played, but ended up in a loss for the Rangers despite being a strike away from the title in two separate innings.
The aftermath: We'll see. Holland has to be full of confidence this offseason thanks to performing when the lights were the brightest. He was so good there was talk about whether the Rangers should pitch him in Game 7 once the rain delayed Game 6 by a day. Ryan believes Holland can use this as an important springboard.
"Do I think last night is going to have an impact on Derek Holland's career? Yeah, I really do," Ryan said. "Do I think he's going to struggle at times? Yeah, he's going to continue to struggle at times, but I think that what he experienced last night and what he accomplished is going to be very beneficial to him."