Inning by inning, this World Series is getting more intriguing.
Derek Holland provided the latest twist, boosted by a pregame pep talk from his manager. The Texas lefty shut down the St. Louis Cardinals on two hits into the ninth inning, and the Rangers won 4-0 Sunday to even things at 2-all.
A day after Albert Pujols set a team record by scoring 16 runs in a postseason game, they never got close against Holland.
”When I came off the field, arm hairs are sticking up. It’s not like I have much, but man, it was tingly,” Holland said.
Rangers manager Ron Washington came to the mound after 8 1/3 innings following Holland’s second walk of the game. So close to a shutout, and with the crowd chanting his name, Holland pleaded his case, trying to talk his way into staying in.
”He was begging,” Washington said. Or, as Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler described it: ”A lot of profanity; we sounded like sailors out there.”
Washington listened, then signaled for closer Neftali Feliz. Holland had done his job in Game 4, and then some. He had kept Pujols in the ballpark and the Rangers in this Series.
”Now it’s a best out of three,” Pujols said. ”See who can win two games. At the end, that’s who is going to be raising the trophy.”
Holland struck out seven and came within two outs of pitching the first complete-game shutout in the World Series since Josh Beckett’s gem for Florida to clinch the 2003 title at Yankee Stadium.
”I was very focused. I knew this was a big game for us,” said Holland, who was 16-5 with 3.95 ERA and four shutouts in the regular season. ”I had to step up and make sure I was prepared.”
Hobbled Josh Hamilton put Texas ahead with an RBI double in the first inning. Then Mike Napoli broke it open with a three-run homer in the sixth that set off a hearty high-five in the front row between team president Nolan Ryan and former President George W. Bush.
And just like that, for the first time since 2003, the World Series stood at two games apiece.
Game 5 is Monday night at Rangers Ballpark. It’s a rematch of the opener, when Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter topped C.J. Wilson. After that, it’s back to Busch Stadium to crown a champion.
Pujols produced arguably the greatest hitting show in postseason history in Game 3, tying Series records with three home runs, six RBI and five hits during the Cardinals’ romp. However, Holland has now emerged as the unlikely star.
Pujols finished 0 for 4 and hit the ball out of the infield only once.
”I wanted him to see my ‘A’ game,” Holland said.
“I saw the ball really good, to tell you the truth,” Pujols said. “He was mixing it up pretty well and throwing strikes. That’s something he’s struggled with in the past, his command. He was throwing strikes. He was being aggressive and keeping us off balance with changeup, breaking ball, cutter and his sinker.”
Feliz took over and closed. He walked Allen Craig, then retired Pujols on a fly ball and struck out Matt Holliday to end it.
Holland was in tune all evening with Napoli, his pal and catcher. Much better than the battery for the pregame ceremony — Bush tossed a wild pitch that glanced off the catcher’s mitt Ryan wore.
”I should’ve gone with the regular glove,” Ryan said with a chuckle.
The bounce-back Rangers managed to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since Aug. 23 to 25, a streak that’s kept them out of trouble in the postseason.
The Rangers also completed a Sunday sweep in the matchup of teams from St. Louis and the Dallas area. Earlier in the afternoon, the Cowboys beat the Rams 34-7 right across the parking lots. Hamilton and Lance Berkman served as honorary captains for the pregame coin toss, wearing their baseball uniforms.
Many fans might remember Holland from last year’s World Series. He’s the reliever who came in against San Francisco, walked his first three batters and promptly got pulled.
Maybe that guy was an impostor. Because this 25-year-old lefty with the sorry little mustache was completely poised, with pinpoint control. Perhaps it was the talk he got from Washington near the dugout shortly before taking the mound.
Washington put both hands on Holland’s shoulders and talked to him tenderly, like a dad about to send his teenage son off to college. Holland kept nodding, and Washington finished up with a playful pat to Holland’s 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 said. ”I talk with Derek like that all the time, it just happened to catch me on TV.”
Added Holland: ”He shows that he cares about all his players, and he definitely showed that when he talked to me.”
After that, Holland was in total command in his first Series start, and improved to 3-0 lifetime in the postseason. The only hits he allowed were by Berkman: a double in the second and a single in the fifth. Holland got even later, getting Berkman to look at a strike three that left the St. Louis star discussing the call with plate umpire Ron Kulpa.
Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson kept his team close despite a wild night in which he walked seven in 5 1/3 innings. Jackson left after a pair of walks in the sixth and Napoli homered on the first pitch from reliever Mitchell Boggs.
”It’s just a matter of time before they catch up with you,” Jackson said.
NOTES: Napoli became the first catcher to hit two homers in a Series since Mike Piazza of the Mets in 2000. … Kinsler and St. Louis C Yadier Molina played a little game of back-and-forth in the second. Kinsler robbed Molina of an RBI single with a nice stop up the middle to end the top half. In the bottom half, Molina made a snap throw that trapped Kinsler off first base for the last out.