Last night’s game four of the World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals featured a pitching performance few fans saw coming.
After the Rangers gave up sixteen runs to the mighty Albert Pujols and friends the game before, it was the 25-year-old kid from Newark, Ohio with an extremely bright future who shut down the Cardinals offense and lifted the darkness of potential Cardinal momentum and domination in what would have been a 3-1 lead in the Series for St. Louis.
Derek Holland delivered a lights out performance Sunday night giving up only two hits in 8 1/3 innings. The stage and what was at risk gave greater weight to an already stellar achievement leaving many to question whether it was the best pitching performance in the history of the franchise.
Talk about saying a lot. You are talking about a franchise that has featured great pitchers as recent as Cliff Lee and as long ago as Nolan Ryan. Clutch victories, no-hitters – in Ryan’s case, multiple no-hitters. Sunday night was as much about the past though as it was about the future. Two organizations battling it out, like heavyweights exchanging body blow after body blow. One organization who has never won the title and another who has proudly displayed ten since last winning in 2006.
The outcome of game four would deliver short term and long term implications. If the Rangers were to lose, they would find themselves in the deepest hole one can find themselves in, in a best of seven Series. Down three games to one, with only three left to play. The likelihood of the Cardinals claiming number eleven? Let’s just say if they had won game four, someone with an St. L on the office door name plate would have had the local shelvesman on speed dial. If the Rangers were to win, the Series would be even. They would have met the mighty offensive attack from the National League that won 90 games this season blow for blow in a toe-to-toe first four games of a winner take all best of seven.
Thanks to Derek Holland’s focus, skill and baseball history bookmark-worthy performance, the Rangers walked away with the latter. Holland gave up only two hits in 8 1/3 innings and walked off to a rousing ovation from the home crowd.
For those who love a high scoring game, Holland wasn’t out there to oblige Sunday evening. For fans who enjoy watching the unexpected players in the Series steal headlines away from those we all thought were likely to command the audience’s attention, Holland was perfect casting. Rangers fans may be familiar with work of ‘The Dutch Oven’ as they so affectionately refer to him, however for MLB fans who follow another team, merely watching a Rangers game because it happens to be game four of the World Series, for those fans this was a breakthrough performance for Holland.
He threw two-hit ball with only two walks and seven strike outs over eight and a third, including keeping Mr. Five-hit-three-homers-six-RBI hitless the day after he looked like he may win the Series by himself for the Cardinals (Pujols). The first two thirds of this amazing drama (Holland’s 16-5 regular season and then the first eight innings of game four) played the crowd into its hands and had fans on the edge of their seats waiting to see how it was to end. Once Texas’ manager, Ron Washington, sent Holland out to finish what he started, they would not have it any other way.
The way Rangers Ballpark sounded as Holland jogged out to the mound to start the top of ninth, it seemed as if each and every one of those fans, had they been Washington, would have done the exact same thing. This was Holland’s show now. Not Cruz, Freese, Pujols, Berkman, Young or Hamilton. Holland was the hero of this drama and the audience wanted to see him pull through. A tribal yell of ‘Adrienne!’ would have felt appropriate at this point. Everyone loves an underdog and Holland was set to play the role to the end. Center of the field. Center stage. All of the attention of millions watching centered on him.
After successfully getting the first of three outs he needed to close it out for himself, Holland gave up just his second walk of the game. Knowing the dramatic difference between going home and sleeping well on a 2-2 Series as opposed to possible pulling a Grady Little and leaving Holland in too long resulting in a blown opportunity and a 3-1 hole, Washington headed to the mound.
This may have been the most nerve-wracking, edge of your seat visit to the mound since Little-Grady in 2003.
While I was watching, I was again blown away by the power of baseball and its drama. I am not a Rangers fan. I am not a Cardinals fan. However, I could not believe how giddy I was about what was taking place. I had nothing on the line yet I knew how much Holland did. While Holland pleaded his case behind his glove, the infield surrounded the mound. They, like us, anxiously anticipating what Washington would decide to do.
The conversation went on for so long, I just kept saying to myself, “He’s going to leave him in. He’s going to leave him in!” Had Washington allowed Holland to finish what he started and go after that second out of the inning, of his game – the noise from Rangers Ballpark, not the television, would have possibly awaken my one-year old son. Considering it was his birthday yesterday, it would have been an amazing baseball situation to wake up to. The crowd would have gone ballistic. I was feeling more excited about a Rangers pitching performance than I ever had before (which would not have taken much considering I’m a Cubs fan). Watching this drama unfold, the night’s climax was starting to feel like when I saw Rocky IV at the theater and the audience around me started going crazy cheering for Rocky against Drago as he fought his way back against his overbearing, overpowering opponent. I am almost embarassed how how excited the crowd in the theater that night was for a fictional charater’s victory. In Texas, they were rooting for Holland, a real life baseball player, with the fate of a franchise in his hands. Imagine what that must have felt like in person.
The meeting on the mound seem to take forever. Then, Washington made a move. He started to turn to his right and I would have bet that he was about to jog back to the dugout. It would have been the jog heard around the world.
The cheers came, however not because Holland was allowed to continue the fight. The cheers came because he Washington had punched his time card and Holland put in a day of work like no one else on the field. Rangers Ballpark erupted with appreciation for what the young pitcher had done for their hopes of obtaining a World Series title. No one man could possibly say you’re welcome as loudly as those tenths of thousands of people were saying thank you. Holland tipped his cap to the Rangers’ faithful, received congratulations from his teammates in the dugout and took his place along the fence to watch Neftali Feliz finish what Holland had started.
In doing so, Holland also took his place along side the greatest Rangers’ pitching performances of all-time. Considering what was at stake and the stage he was on, quitely possibly the absolute greatest of all-time.
Rangers fan? No. Cardinals fan? No. However, as a baseball fan, this was a must-see performance. As the day of ‘Game 162′ at the end of the regular season brought a thrilling day of baseball to millions of MLB fans who didn’t even have a team in the mix, so did last night’s performance by Holland.
An amazing outing to be sure. One that Rangers fans and baseball fans alike may look back at as the 8 1/3 innings that sparked the Rangers to claim their very first World Series championship. Baseball. What’s not to love?