Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Sunday, October 23, 2011
Updated: October 24, 8:26 AM ET
Holland turns in masterful performance

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Let's be honest: None of us anticipated Derek Holland's masterful World Series performance.

Not Jon Daniels. Not Nolan Ryan. Not me. Or you.

We're being honest, so not even Ron Washington could have or would have predicted Holland's dominant performance until the manager put his hands on the 25-year-old's shoulder moments before the game's first pitch.

Holland's usual nervous energy? Nonexistent. So Washington stared into his starter's eyes.

Derek Holland
Derek Holland pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 4 of the World Series, allowing just two hits with seven strikeouts.
"He was so focused," Washington said. "I knew he was going to give us what we needed."

Indeed.

For one night, Holland was the best pitcher on the planet, allowing two hits and striking out seven in 8 1/3 innings as the Texas Rangers beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 and the Rangers tied the series at 2-2.

Holland turned in the kind of performance that secured his place in the franchise's annals regardless of whether they wind up winning a title. The Rangers still have an opportunity because Holland saved the bullpen and season.

No way the Rangers were rallying from a 3-1 series deficit.

Holland left to a standing ovation from more than 51,000 towel-waving blue-and-red-clad fans with a runner on first and one out in the ninth.

"I've never heard our stadium that loud," Holland said. "The hair on my arms -- it's not like I have a whole lot -- was standing up and it was all tingly."

It's hard to believe St. Louis generated 16 runs, 15 hits and Albert Pujols' performance for the ages, because the same lineup had no chance against Holland.

Remember, this is the same dude who had four shutouts during the season.

Holland threw all four of his pitches for strikes, changed speeds effectively and consistently altered the hitter's eye level by moving the ball up and down and in and out.

And get this: He challenged Pujols.

Unlike Saturday night, when Alexi Ogando, Mike Gonzalez and Darren Oliver left fat pitches in the center of the plate, Holland pitched inside to Pujols. Once Pujols respected his inside fastball, Holland made him chase pitches down and away. The result: Pujols went 0-for-3 against Holland.

And without Pujols doing damage, the Cardinals' attack was impotent.

It's not complicated.

Holland threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 28 batters and pitched ahead in the count most of the time. That gave catcher Mike Napoli the flexibility to call breaking balls, which kept the Cardinals' hitters off-balance.

Holland recorded four fly-ball outs and 14 ground-ball outs. The Cardinals managed just one runner in scoring position against him.

In the process, Holland saved the bullpen, which threw 117 pitches in 5 1/3 innings in Saturday's loss.

Not bad for a guy who had not pitched past the fifth inning in his first three postseason starts. Frankly, it had been disappointing, because Holland was the Rangers' best pitcher in the second half of the season, going 9-1 with a 3.08 ERA.

Still, he's a kid with immense talent and potential who's still learning how to harness his gifts.

Sometimes, like in his performance in Game 2 of the ALCS, he's so full of adrenaline that he can't calm down and his pitches sail out of the strike zone. Disaster usually follows.

He lasted just 2 2/3 innings in Game 2, and he pitched just 4 2/3 in Game 6 of the ALCS, failing to make Washington comfortable enough to leave him in the game despite a five-run lead.

Add that to his World Series performance last season, when he threw 12 balls in 13 pitches, and Holland decided he needed to change his postseason fortunes.

"I wanted to redeem myself after Game 2," Holland said. "I did everything I could to get us a win. I wanted to control my adrenaline and not get so antsy.

"I started looking at it like a boxer. I've got to go nine rounds and in between I need to sit in the dugout and relax."

Now it's C.J. Wilson's turn to deliver the performance of a lifetime Monday night in Game 5 as the Rangers attempt to seize control of the series.

Wilson, 0-3 in the postseason with a 7.17 ERA, owes it to his teammates. And to the fans.

Most of all, he owes it to himself.

Holland provided the blueprint. It's time.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.