AL MVP

2011 World Series

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — 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.

Texas Rangers starting pitcher C.J. Wilson throws in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Saturday, in Seattle.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

In the midst of an 11-game win streak, the Rangers are showing that last year’s AL pennant was no fluke.

You could always count on Texas for plenty of runs every night. Before last season, you could count on the same from their opponent as well. Since all-time strikeout king Nolan Ryan took over the organization, the Texas pitching staff that was once a burden is now what’s driving the team’s recent success.

Ryan’s disregard of pitch counts and emphasis on starting pitchers going deeper into games has worked wonders for his staff. In 2008, Ryan’s first year as Rangers president, Texas finished dead last in team ERA, WHIP, quality starts and opposing batting average. This season, the Rangers have improved to a 3.81 team ERA, more than 1.5 runs below what it was in ’08 and they are on-pace for 102 quality starts, nearly twice as many as they had four seasons ago.

Despite losing southpaw extraordinaire Cliff Lee, Texas’ pitching staff is as formidable as it was in 2010. C.J. Wilson was an All-Star this season. Derek Holland has thrown consecutive complete game shutouts. Colby Lewis was an out away from tossing one in his last start. Alexi Ogando has brilliantly and seamlessly made the transition from reliever to starter.

The Rangers lineup is still fearsome. Even without two critical parts of their lineup ­— Nelson Cruz (for nearly three weeks) and defending AL MVP Josh Hamilton (for over five weeks) — Texas hung on to its division lead. On May 23, Cruz and Hamilton both homered in their first games back. Since their return from the disabled list, Texas is 29-18, good for the major league’s fourth-best record in that span.

Middle infielders Ian Kinsler, who has miraculously managed to stay healthy all season, and Elvis Andrus have been solid so far. On the corners, Mitch Moreland and third baseman Adrian Beltre are just as reliable. Remarkably, Michael Young leads Texas with a .323 batting average — impressive considering he was thought of as an afterthought this offseason after the acquisition of Beltre. Young is 32 hits away from 2,000 career.

Former Longhorn catcher Taylor Teagarden recently had a brief stint with the Rangers after Mike Napoli was injured. Teagarden made six starts in the three weeks he spent in the big leagues, hitting .269. In his last game, Teagarden went out in style, going 3-for-5 with two doubles and a pair of RBI.

On his way back from the DL, Napoli spent some time playing for the Round Rock Express. He blasted a walk-off home run one night and homered twice the next night, with the second sending the game into extra innings. Napoli was called up July 4 and is hitting .391 and slugging a whopping .913.

But considering the Rangers recent history, Napoli’s power surge shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Texas Rangers have always hit well. As long as their pitching staff stays healthy and performs the way it did in the first half of the season, they should find themselves in the playoffs once again. 

Printed on 07/18/2011 as: Rangers putting wins together in hopes of another AL crown

When the Texas Rangers reached their first-ever World Series appearance last season, not having the home-field advantage took a toll on them. They dropped both games in San Francisco before losing the series in five games.

Rangers manager Ron Washington will lead the American League at this year’s All-Star game, where the American League will try to redeem themselves after having their 14-game winning streak snapped by the National League in last season’s Midsummer Classic.

2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton secured a spot in the starting lineup of the 2011 All-Star Game, which will take place in Phoenix, Ariz., on July 12. Each team’s rosters were announced Sunday, and three of Hamilton’s Texas teammates will join him in Phoenix — pitcher C.J. Wilson, third baseman Adrian Beltre and designated hitter
Michael Young. Hamilton edged out Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury for the starting spot by just 36,727 votes.

Hard-hitting right fielder Hunter Pence was the only member of the Houston Astros chosen to be on the NL’s All-Star squad.

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista. Bautista was the leading vote-getter. Bautista, who led the majors with 54 home runs last year and leads the majors this year with 26, blasted Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1994 vote record of 6,069,688 with 7,454,753 votes.

The New York Yankees led all squads with six All-Star selections, including four starters — second baseman Robinson Cano, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, shortstop Derek Jeter and center fielder Curtis Granderson. However, the Yankees ace and 11-game winner, CC Sabathia, did not make the cut. Last year’s AL- and NL-leading vote-getters, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols were also left out.

This year’s All-Star game will feature plenty of fresh faces as well, as 24 players are participating for the first time.

The Rangers are well-represented at this year’s All-Star game. If they make a return trip to the Fall Classic, home-field advantage would help. But to earn that, they’ll need a good showing at the Midsummer Classic.