ARLINGTON, Texas -- The wispy mustache that Derek Holland has grown does not make him look urbane, nor mature, but even more callow than he already does. It makes him looks like a boy who has accompanied his father to the barbershop on a Saturday afternoon, and who has gathered some floor clippings and pressed them to his sweaty lip, aping the style of the men who surround him.
And Holland is young. He turned 25 earlier this month, and of his 24 fellow Texas Rangers, only two are younger. At Holland's age, adrenaline and emotions are not things to be harnessed, but to be fought off. While the things he can do with his left arm are almost nonpareil -- among left-handed starting pitchers, only the Rays' David Price exceeds Holland's average fastball velocity of 94.2 miles per hour -- his assembled pitching lines from the regular season demonstrate that he sometimes has trouble keeping himself in control. Only Cliff Lee threw more shutouts this season than Holland's four, and in 11 of his 32 starts he allowed one earned run or fewer. In 10 of those starts, however, he allowed five earned runs or more.
In order to get himself used to pitching in the electric environment of the World Series, Holland three days ago did a very smart thing. He waited to throw his scheduled bullpen session until the ninth inning of Game 2, when the Cardinals were nursing a 1-0 lead and the fans in St. Louis were in a constant state of frenzy.
"The crowd was getting into it, and I was listening to them, and my adrenaline was picking up because it was as if I was warming up to go into the game," he says. "But I was also making sure that I was [pretending] to face hitters at the same time, and I felt like I did a good job of controlling everything."
That simulated experience paid off in Game 4 on Sunday night in Arlington, in which Holland was the picture of a pitcher in total command from the game's beginning, and in which he led the Rangers to a 4-0 win and a 2-2 tie in the series. Ron Washington, the Rangers manager, had discussed the reason why the Cardinals, and Albert Pujols in particular, had been able to victimize the Rangers' pitchers for 16 runs the previous evening. They kept throwing mistake pitches over the middle of the plate, he said. Holland made no such mistakes, not one, pitching to the very edges of the imaginary box that forms the strike zone again, and again, and again.
Mike Napoli hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the Rangers some breathing room but, as it turned out, their offense had long before scored the only run that Holland would require, on a first-inning double by Josh Hamilton. Holland's display was, in its way, nearly as great as Albert Pujols' the night before. In his 8 1/3 innings just four Cardinals reached base, on a pair of Lance Berkman hits and a pair of walks, making him the 19th pitcher in World Series history to pitch as many shutout innings while allowing so few baserunners.
"Tough to compare," said Michael Young, of Holland's and Pujols' back-to-back historic evenings. "But two really dominant performances."
Holland's might have been even more dominant had he gotten his way, had Washington allowed him to stay in the game after he had with his 118th pitch walked Rafael Furcal with one out in the top of the ninth, instead of signaling for closer Neftali Feliz.
"I tried, but he was like, 'Nope, you ain't staying out there, son, you ain't gonna stay out there,'" said Holland, mimicking Washington's distinctive patois. "I'm like, 'Come on, Wash, you gotta let me go, let me get this. I'm going to try to get a double play out of this. I'm going to do everything I can.' He said, 'Nope, just watch the crowd reaction when you get out there, son.' I'm like, 'All right, see you later, Wash.'"
"I don't want to do it too much," he said of his impression of his manager. "Who knows -- he might send me to Triple A or something."
Everybody laughed at that last idea -- World Series heroes do not generally return to Triple-A -- which Holland conveyed in front of his locker. The locker contained all of a ballplayer's usual accouterments -- various shoes, workout clothes, headphones. It also contained an ornate silver knife, with a curvy handle.
"That was handed to me by Hoggy, our clubhouse guy," Holland explained, sheepishly. "Right when I got here today, he pulled me into his office and he was like, 'Here, take this, use this as motivation. We're going to war.' Before you get any ideas -- it's a letter opener. I'm not carrying any crazy weapons or anything. I'm not a killer."
On Sunday night, he was, and he showed his older teammates that the Cardinals' lineup -- even in the Ballpark in Arlington, with its hot air and inviting outfield walls -- can be slain.