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Holland's Opus: Rangers lefty pitches Texas to win

St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols hits a three-run home run during the sixth inning of Game 3 of baseball's World Series against the Texas Rangers Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols hits a three-run home run during the sixth inning of Game 3 of baseball's World Series against the Texas Rangers Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
By Mike Fitzpatrick
AP Sports Writer / October 23, 2011

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What a performance by Derek Holland!

With his Texas Rangers trailing two games to one in the World Series, the 25-year-old lefty took a two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts into the ninth inning against a powerful Cardinals lineup.

After a one-out walk to Rafael Furcal, manager Ron Washington came out to the mound for a long discussion with Holland, who later said he was "begging" to finish the job.

It looked as if Washington might give the kid a chance, but then he stepped aside and signaled to the bullpen for closer Neftali Feliz, bringing boos from the crowd.

Holland waved to fans as he walked to the dugout. Feliz retired Albert Pujols on a fly to center and struck out Matt Holliday with two on to secure Texas' 4-0 victory.

The World Series is tied at two games apiece and will go back to St. Louis for Game 6. Before that, Game 5 is Monday night in Texas.

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Holland still was throwing 96 mph in the ninth, with a chance at the first complete-game shutout in the World Series since Josh Beckett's gem for Florida to clinch the 2003 title at Yankee Stadium.

Rangers fans chanted Holland's name.

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Crowd roars as Holland throws a called third strike past Lance Berkman to end the seventh inning.

Berkman didn't like the call, but it certainly looked like a strike.

Holland, a 16-game winner during the regular season, is throwing a gem. He walked only two and needed fewer than 100 pitches to get through seven innings.

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Nolan Ryan claps his approval as Holland walks off the mound with six shutout innings under his belt.

Holland's curveball has been particularly effective. He got a double-play ball in the fifth and fanned Allen Craig for the second time to end the sixth.

Somehow, St. Louis starter Edwin Jackson left trailing only 1-0 despite six walks in 5 1-3 innings. The run came on Josh Hamilton's RBI double in the first.

But the score changed quickly. Mike Napoli hit a three-run homer on the first pitch from Mitchell Boggs to make it 4-0 Rangers in the sixth.

That call to the bullpen backfired on Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who has made splendid moves throughout the postseason. Jackson looked finished after 109 pitches, but Boggs couldn't get the job done.

Sooner or later, those Texas bats were bound to break out.

Napoli is the first catcher with two home runs in a World Series since Mike Piazza in 2000.

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Holland works a 1-2-3 fourth. Pujols fouled out to first, making him 0 for 2 on the night, and mouthed "wow" as he walked back to the dugout. He may have thought he missed a good pitch to hit.

Holland probably caught a bit of a break earlier in the inning. He fell behind 3-1 on Craig, who reached for a pitch that appeared a touch outside and grounded out to first. Could have cost himself a leadoff walk.

Nelson Cruz flies out to the center field fence in the bottom of the inning, with Jon Jay making a nice catch. Jackson pointed out to Jay in appreciation.

Holland has thrown five shutout innings, and the Rangers still lead 1-0.

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With a runner on second, Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler made a nice play up the middle to end the second inning. Kinsler, who has been shaky on defense during the Series, threw out Yadier Molina, who didn't get down the line very well.

Molina picked off Kinsler at first base to end the bottom of the inning.

Holland has faced one more than the minimum through three innings, allowing only a second-inning double to Berkman. Holland appears to be getting pitches just off the inside corner from plate umpire Ron Kulpa, who acknowledged that he missed a key call in Game 3 at first base.

That's big for Holland against right-handed hitters. He froze David Freese in the second inning with a pitch that looked a touch inside.

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Game 4 is under way.

No sign of nerves from Holland in the first inning as he retired the side in order, getting Pujols on a grounder to shortstop.

Hamilton gave Texas a 1-0 lead with an RBI double off Jackson in the bottom of the inning. Elvis Andrus scored easily from first on a ball into the right-field corner. David Murphy flied out with the bases loaded to end the inning.

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Former President George W. Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Ryan from the slope of the mound. The ball tailed a bit and glanced off the glove of a kneeling Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who is now the Rangers' president and part-owner.

Texas manager Ron Washington and his players got a kick out of that, whooping it up in the dugout with some good-natured ribbing at Ryan's expense.

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Fox showed an interesting exchange in the dugout before the game. Washington gave Holland a face-to-face pep talk, putting his hands on the pitcher's shoulders before giving Holland a little slap on the cheek.

Holland was nodding, taking in every word of advice. But it certainly was unusual. Rarely do you see a starting pitcher engaged in that sort of a discussion moments before taking the mound -- even in October. Most of the time, suggestions or pep talks take place long before that.

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Fox showed video of Pujols' first swing during batting practice. He slipped awkwardly in the batter's box and nearly fell down, but wasn't hurt.

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Wonder if Pujols will get much to hit tonight -- or during the rest of the World Series, for that matter.

The three-time NL MVP put on perhaps the greatest hitting show in postseason history Saturday at Texas. He had three homers, six RBIs and five hits, tying World Series records with each achievement.

His huge outburst sent the Cardinals to a 16-7 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven championship. Now, it will be interesting to see if Washington gives Pujols any more chances to hurt the Rangers.

Remember, Washington took the bat out of Miguel Cabrera's hands in an unusual situation earlier this postseason. He intentionally walked the Detroit Tigers' slugger with nobody on late in Game 4 of the AL championship series and it nearly came back to bite him.

From here on out, whenever possible, expect Washington to take his chances with Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman rather than Pujols.

On the mound, the Rangers could really use a strong start from Holland, who is 1-0 with a 5.27 ERA in four postseason outings this year, including three starts. He's been hit pretty hard, allowing 18 hits, five homers and six walks in 13 2-3 innings.

The left-hander is facing Jackson, acquired by St. Louis just before the July 31 trade deadline. Jackson, who can become a free agent after the season, struggled in his last outing, Game 6 against Milwaukee in the NLCS.

If the Cardinals can win Game 4, they send ace Chris Carpenter to the mound Monday night with a chance to wrap up their second title in six seasons. C.J. Wilson, who is 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA in four postseason starts this year, starts for the Rangers.

Texas hasn't lost consecutive games since dropping three in a row to Boston from Aug. 23-25.

Washington made a change at first base, giving Mitch Moreland his first start of the World Series. Mike Napoli moves back behind the plate.

Napoli started at first Saturday night and made a crucial throwing error that allowed two runs to score. Washington said the move had nothing to do with that, though. He said Moreland, who is 2 for 19 (.105) in the postseason, was told a couple of days ago that he would play in Game 4.

Washington dropped Napoli to the No. 8 spot in the lineup, between Murphy and Moreland, to split up the righties and lefties at the bottom of the order.

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