ARLINGTON, Texas — Derek Holland kept Albert Pujols in the ballpark and the Texas Rangers in this World Series.
In a title matchup that’s getting more interesting with every game, Holland put the emphasis back on pitching. Given a pep talk by manager Ron Washington minutes before the game, Holland threw two-hit ball for 8 1-3 innings to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 on Sunday night and even things at 2-all.
Holland struck out seven, walked two and never was in trouble against a team that erupted for 16 runs the previous night. He 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,” Holland said. “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. Now the whole season is down to a best of three, with the outcome to be decided back at Busch Stadium.
Game 5 is Monday night at Rangers Ballpark. It’s a rematch of the opener, when Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter topped C.J. Wilson.
A day after Pujols produced arguably the greatest hitting show in postseason history, tying Series records with three home runs, six RBIs and five hits during the Cardinals’ romp, Holland emerged as the unlikely star.
Holland got a big cheer when he took the mound in the ninth and was still throwing 96 mph. With the crowd chanting his name, he walked Rafael Furcal and was pulled by Washington after a long talk on the mound.
“I was begging to stay out there,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll give it everything I’ve got. I can get the double play.’
“When I came off the field my arm hair was sticking up — not like I have much.”
Holland tipped his cap and waved to the fans as he walked off. His outing was the longest scoreless appearance by an AL starter in the Series since Andy Pettitte also went 8 1-3 at Atlanta in 1996.
Neftali Feliz took over and closed. He walked Allen Craig, then retired Pujols on a fly ball and struck out Matt Holliday to end it.
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.
Said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “Well, I would just say he worked us over. Give him credit.”
“Good pitching is always going to stop good hitting,” he said.
Holland was in tune all evening with his 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. 23-25, 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.
“He shows that he cares about all his players, and he definitely showed that when he talked to me,” Holland said.
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. He walked seven, and eventually they caught up with him.
It was 1-0 when La Russa yanked Jackson after two one-out walks in the sixth and signaled for reliever Mitchell Boggs. Napoli was up, and the sellout crowd chanted his name as he stepped into the batter’s box.
Boggs stayed in the stretch for an extra beat while Furcal ducked behind Nelson Cruz from shortstop. When Boggs finally threw a 95 mph fastball with his first pitch, Napoli whacked it.
Napoli stood at the plate for a moment as the ball sailed deep, just inside the left field line. Boggs could only contort his body, seeing the game get out of hand.
Hamilton forced the Cardinals to play catch-up for the first time in a while. St. Louis had scored first in 10 straight postseason games, one shy of the record set by Detroit during a span from 1972-84.
Elvis Andrus singled with one out in the Texas first and sped home when Hamilton doubled into the right field corner. The reigning AL MVP has been slowed by a strained groin, part of the reason he hasn’t homered in 57 at-bats this postseason.
NOTES: Napoli became the first catcher to hit two homers in a Series since Mike Piazza of the Mets in 2000. … Texas 2B Ian 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 f or the last out. … Mitch Moreland batted last for Texas. It’s the sixth time a starting first baseman in the World Series had hit ninth in order, four by Moreland.