— ARLINGTON, Texas - The Texas Rangers can run some gaudy numbers at you.
Five of their hitters slugged 25 or more regular-season home runs. All five members of their starting rotation won 13 or more games. And with nine post-season victories on their way to a second consecutive World Series appearance, their season total is at 105 and counting.
But of all the Rangers' statistical accomplishments, the best may be the fact that they haven't lost two games in a row in 43 games dating back to late-August.
Never did that streak seem more in jeopardy than after a 16-7 beat-down by the bats of the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3. But 24 hours later, the Rangers' adjustment for Game 4 simply was to send Derek Holland to the mound.
As Rangers followers know, there actually are two versions of the 25-year-old left-hander — Great Derek Holland and Bad Derek Holland. Great Derek Holland threw four complete-game shutouts in the regular season. Only Philadelphia's Cliff Lee (six) threw more. Bad Derek Holland left eight different starts after allowing at least five earned runs.
It was the former who showed up at the most critical time in a 4-0 victory that evened the World Series at 2-2. Great Derek Holland came within two outs of another complete-game shutout.
Think about it: This after the Cardinals scored 16 runs and banged out 15 hits in Game 3. Talk about crooked numbers, they went all zip-code — 4-3-4-2-1 — on the Rangers' staff in the fourth-through-eighth innings, and Albert Pujols set two single-game World Series records and tied three others.
But Holland brought that to a dramatic and series-shifting halt. He gave up only two hits, struck out six, induced 14 ground ball outs, and only allowed two balls — a single and double by Lance Berkman — to leave the infield. All Holland needed was the first-inning run the Rangers pushed across, but the game-clinching blow was Mike Napoli's three-run homer in the sixth.
"Considering the situation, this was the one of the best-pitched games this organization has ever seen,'' second baseman Ian Kinsler said.
Added Rangers manager Ron Washington: "(Holland) was just outstanding. He was able to use all his pitches, all around the strike zone. He had good off-speed stuff tonight, kept them off balance — in, out, up, down.''
And Pujols? One night earlier, he was Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Paul Molitor, Bobby Richardson and Hideki Matsui all rolled into one. He tied Ruth and Jackson with three homers, tied Molitor with five hits, and tied Matsui and Richardson with six RBI — as well as rack up a single-game-record 14 total bases.
But Pujols' Game 4 at-bats?: Grounder to short, pop-up to first, grounder to the pitcher against Holland. And in the top of the ninth, with two runners on, Pujols harmlessly flied to center off closer Neftali Feliz.
"I just wanted to go right after him,'' Holland said about Pujols. "He's one of the best in the game, there's no doubt about it. But I wanted him to see my A game as well."
Added Washington: "This is not the first dominant outing Derek Holland has had. It's in him — as I told you. Now we've got to find that capability every time he takes the baseball.''
The television cameras caught the first of Washington's two primary conversations with Holland — a short pre-game pep talk complete with hands on shoulders and a slap on the cheek. Holland said Washington's motivational touch is at least part of the reason why the Rangers can bounce back so quickly — even after bad losses.
"He does that a lot,'' Holland said. "He cares about his players. He gets into the game, as you guys have seen. He's like a track superstar in the dugout. He cares about every single one of our players.''
Added Washington: "We understand what happens when we lose, and we know what we have to do the next day to get back on track.''
The second conversation came two batters into the ninth — after a walk to Rafael Furcal, and 118 pitches into Holland's masterpiece.
"He told me that he can get the ground ball double play, and I told him that with all you've done today, I know you can get that ground ball double play,'' Washington said. "But I'm going to Nefti (Feliz). I told him if he wants to stay out here, get on your knees (and beg). He walked off the field.''
And so now the question of when Holland will be back on the mound must be raised. He said he never has started a game on three days rest — the amount he would be working on in a Game 7, if the series gets there. But Holland already has made a relief appearance in this postseason — 1.1 innings in Game 4 of the division series in Tampa, allowing only one hit.
Matt Harrison is in line to start a Game 7 for Texas, but didn't make it out of a snake-bit fourth inning of Game 3, hurt by a blown call at first base and Napoli's throwing error. But for all the misfortune, Harrison did allow four hits and a walk in that fateful fourth, so at the very least, he'll be on a short leash in a Game 7.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, would have a decision on Kyle Lohse, who was just as ineffective as Harrison in his Game 3 start. Lohse got only three batters into the fifth, and allowed six runs and two home runs.