Rangers Manager Ron Washington gives starting pitcher Derek Holland a… (Chris Lee / McClatchy-Tribune )
Reporting from Arlington, Texas -- Before Derek Holland took the mound Sunday for the biggest start of his career, Manager Ron Washington stopped him in front of the Texas dugout, put a hand on each shoulder and delivered a pep talk.
"It was just a general message that he's capable of going out there and keeping us in the ballgame," Washington said.
Holland remembers it slightly differently.
"He told me, 'Don't try to hit anybody,'" the left-hander said.
Holland followed both pieces of advice in Game 4 of the World Series, shutting out the St. Louis Cardinals on two hits for 81/3 innings and failing to hit anybody, helping the Rangers to a 4-0 win that evened the best-of-seven series at two wins apiece.
It was a masterful performance by a pitcher who has struggled in the postseason, averaging fewer than five innings in three starts and posting a 5.84 earned-run average. Holland was on such thin ice before his last start in the American League Championship Series that Washington was asked how long a leash his pitcher had.
The manager took two ball-point pens, held them tip to tip and said "about this long."
There was no talk of leashes Sunday, when Holland smothered a potent offense that had a record-setting night just 24 hours earlier.
In Game 3, the Cardinals had 16 runs and 15 hits -- in Game 4, Holland held them scoreless, allowing just three of the 28 batters he faced to hit the ball out of the infield.
In Game 3, the Cardinals scored in seven of their nine at-bats -- in Game 4, Holland retired the side in order six times, striking out seven.
"He worked us over," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said.
As a result, the records Sunday belonged to Holland, whose 81/3 scoreless innings matched the longest shutout streak by an American League pitcher in a World Series game since the New York Yankees' Andy Pettitte in 1996. And the two hits for St. Louis were the fewest in a World Series game since the Atlanta Braves got two in the opening game in 1999.
"I wanted to show that I belong here. That was the main thing," said Holland, who pitched poorly in two relief appearances in last year's World Series. "I want[ed] to get momentum back on our side. And I knew it was a big game so I knew I had to step up."
But doing that would require him to control more than just the Cardinals hitters. He would have to control his emotions too -- and that's often a tougher foe.
"He's a fighter. He's a battler," Washington said. "Just sometimes his emotions overtake everything. Tonight he never got out of control and Mike Napoli deserves a lot of credit for that."
Napoli, Holland's catcher, also deserves credit for the three-run homer he hit in the sixth inning. Dropped to eighth in the lineup, Napoli answered by driving reliever Mitchell Boggs' first pitch deep into the left-field bleachers to turn a 1-0 nail-biter into a comfortable 4-0 game.
Afterward, though, Napoli wanted to talk about his pitcher.
"He never got out of control so I really didn't have to calm him down or do anything different," he said. "From pitch one he was the same. He was throwing strikes and made his adjustments when he needed to."
Which led to another conversation between Washington and Holland.
After the left-hander walked Rafael Furcal with one out in the ninth, his manager walked to the mound to pull his starter -- who had no intention of coming out.
"He was begging," Washington said with a laugh. "I just told him if you want to stay out here, get on your knees."
Holland says Washington got that story right.
"I was begging," he said. "I didn't get on my knees but he was like, 'No, you ain't going in there son.' I was trying everything I could to stay out there."
He stayed out there long enough to extend the Rangers' season, guaranteeing the World Series will return to St. Louis for Game 6 -- at least.
"It's not always the best team that wins it's the team that plays the best on that day," Washington said. "And today we were better."