Just when you think you have a handle on the Cardinals-Rangers series, it takes another abrupt turn, leaving you grasping at air.
Texas’s ostensible fourth starter, Derek Holland, combined with closer Neftali Feliz on a magnificent two-hit shutout Sunday night to even the Series at two games apiece.
Holland’s hard sinkers mixed in with his mid-90s fastballs to silence the Cardinals hitters. They hit only three balls to the outfield in his eight-and-a-third innings of work: St. Louis’s only two hits, both by Lance Berkman, and a Yadier Molina fly out to center. He struck out seven, walked two, and got seventeen infield outs, thirteen on grounders.
Coming just one night after St. Louis’s historic display of fireworks, including Albert Pujols’s three home runs and 14 total bases in a 16-7 win, Holland’s gem slammed the brakes on the Cardinals’ momentum and meant that the Rangers have still not lost back-to-back games since August 25.
The stakes were high for Texas going into game four. In World Series history, there have been 21 instances when the home team fell behind three games to one; just three of those trailing teams came back to win the Series (New York Yankees, 1958; Detroit Tigers, 1968; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1979).
The bats that were expected to dominate the series made their first appearance in game three Saturday night. The two teams had scored eight runs in the first two chilly games at Busch Stadium; the Cards alone doubled that on a warm night in Arlington.
With more explosions expected, the Rangers turned to Holland, the 25-year-old lefthander who went 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA in the regular season, but had given up more than six and a half runs per nine innings in the playoffs. That accounted for manager Ron Washington’s choice to skip over him for Matt Harrison in game three (and a likely start in game seven if the series goes that far).
Holland’s aggregate numbers for the season understate how dominant he could be on occasion. He shared the American League lead in shutouts (four) with James Shields, and he had eleven starts in which he threw six or more innings and allowed at most one run. No pitcher in the playoff finals had more such games; only Chris Carpenter had as many. From July 7 to the end of the regular season, Holland went 10-1, with an ERA of 2.77 and a 3:1 strikeout-walk ratio.
The Rangers gave him the only run he would need in the first inning, as Josh Hamilton brought home Elvis Andrus with a double stroked down the right-field line. It was just the second hit of the series for Hamilton, whose groin injury has hampered his usual ability to drive the ball. He’s hitting .125 for the four games, with an on-base average of .118 and slugging average of .188. Washington’s loyalty may be part of his strength as a personnel manager, but the strategic disadvantage of putting such an injured player in the three-hole may yet submarine Texas’s hopes.
One of the men who should be hitting higher, Mike Napoli, crushed a three-run homer in the sixth to account for the rest of the scoring. Mitchell Boggs had just come in to relieve Edwin Jackson, who gave up just three hits but walked seven, equaling the most ever allowed by a Cardinals pitcher in the postseason (Wild Bill Hallahan walked seven while pitching a three-hit shutout in the 1931 World Series). With two of Jackson’s free passes on base, Boggs threw a high fastball for his first pitch, and Napoli tomahawked it deep into the left-field stands.
The first game of the Series revolved around the managers. The second saw great pitching from both teams, and put the spotlight on Texas’s versatility, as they scratched out the tying and winning runs in the ninth thanks to two singles, a steal, an error, and two sacrifice flies. Game three was an offensive highlight reel, with St. Louis outslugging Texas 11-6 in the middle three innings alone.
Game four belonged to the left arm of one young man, in one of the most dazzling World Series outings in recent memory. Since the start of divisional play in 1969, just two starters have thrown eight or more innings in a Series game while allowing fewer than the four baserunners Holland permitted. One of those two will start for the Cardinals in game five: Chris Carpenter, who gave up three hits and no walks in the third game in 2006 against Detroit.
Carpenter will face C.J. Wilson, who has a postseason ERA of 7.17 in four starts this year. The way things are going in this series, he’ll pitch the game of his life, and the Texas bats will come alive. Everything else has happened so far, so why not?