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Holland makes name, changes complexion of World Series

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- So to recap the weekend at the World Series, Saturday was about Albert Pujols' place in history.

And Sunday was about Derek Holland's.

Saturday, Pujols was outdoing Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth in Game 4. Sunday in Game 5, Holland was outdoing ... Nolan Ryan?

Well, if you believe Ian Kinsler, yeah, he was.

He was outdoing Ryan, who threw two no-hitters in a Rangers uniform. He was outdoing Kenny Rogers, who threw a perfect game as a Ranger.

"This," Kinsler said Sunday, "was probably the best pitching performance this organization has seen."

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And when I looked at him funny, Kinsler had a comeback ready.

"Who's done that in the World Series?" he asked.

No one. Not around here, anyway. Not around many places.

Not when you add it all up. Not when you put 8 1/3 shutout innings, with only two hits, in proper context.

Remember where this World Series was headed 24 hours earlier. The Cardinals led it two games to one. The Rangers bullpen was spent. Pujols had homered in each of his last three at-bats, and looked like he was ready to homer in his next 23 at-bats, if needed.

And Derek Holland was the talented but way too excitable pitcher who gave up seven runs in 7 1/3 innings in two starts last week against the Tigers.

Now think about where this World Series is now, after Holland's 4-0 victory against the Cardinals on Sunday night. It's tied at two games apiece. The Rangers bullpen has basically had an entire day to rest. Pujols was held hitless for the third time in four games.

And people are asking Derek Holland how soon he can pitch again.

"I'll be ready for Game 6," he said. "I'll be in the pen. I won't be starting again."

Don't you love baseball? Don't you love how the story can totally change in a day?

"Baseball is crazy," Kinsler said.

So crazy that the story of this World Series changed right around the time the Rangers clubhouse manager handed Holland a letter opener. Or around the time Rangers manager Ron Washington slapped Holland across the face.

The letter opener, Holland said, is "a motivational thing," although it wasn't exactly clear how it was supposed to motivate him.

The slap was slightly easier to understand. It came just before Holland's first pitch, after a brief motivational talk in the Rangers dugout.

Washington, who has special relationships with many of his players, has a unique relationship with Holland. And a unique way of ending their conversations.

With a slap.

"Always," Holland said. "But not usually in the face. It's one of our typical things. He motivates me big time."

Maybe that helps explain why Holland has had so many big performances. He threw four complete-game shutouts this year; Cliff Lee was the only pitcher in the major leagues with more.

What it doesn't explain is why Holland can follow a four-hit shutout with a start where he records only five outs, as he did on Aug. 5 against the Indians.

"Yeah, I know," Holland said. "It's very frustrating, because I know what I'm capable of."

Now we all know it, too. We know he's capable of pitching a game that sends us back to those World Series record books.

Who's the last guy to pitch at least 8 1/3 shutout innings in a World Series game? Josh Beckett, in the Marlins' clinching Game 6, in 2003 at Yankee Stadium.

Who's the last guy to pitch at least 8 1/3 innings and allow as few as two hits? Greg Maddux, for the 1995 Braves, in Game 1 against the Indians.

Who's the last guy to pitch at least 8 1/3 shutout innings with his team trailing in the World Series? Curt Schilling, for the 1993 Phillies, in Game 5 against the Blue Jays.

Josh Beckett, Greg Maddux, Curt Schilling ... and Derek Holland.

It's not exactly Ruth, Reggie and Albert, but it's not bad company, either.

"I want to be one of those guys," Holland said. "I want to make a name for [myself]."

It's possible that he just did, especially if the Rangers end up winning this World Series.

Remember, if he doesn't do what he did Sunday, none of us is even talking about the Rangers having a chance to win. We're still talking about Albert, or we're talking about how Chris Carpenter could close out the series Monday night, or (if we're from Texas), we're quickly moving on to the Cowboys.

Instead, we're all talking about a 25-year-old kid with a bad mustache.

"Derek might have made himself a household name," Rangers reliever (and Texas native) Mike Adams said. "He might have become one of those Texas folk legends.

"He might have to keep that mustache -- unfortunately. But it's OK. When he grows up, he'll get a better one."

When he grows up, maybe he'll figure out how to turn that 97 mph fastball and nasty curve into more consistent results. Maybe we won't be any more shocked when he's on lists with Beckett, Maddux and Schilling than we are to see Pujols on a list with Ruth and Reggie.

And maybe we won't look at anyone funny when it's suggested that he came to Texas and outdid Nolan Ryan.

Oh, and maybe every pitcher will ask for a letter opener and a slap from his manager.

Hey, whatever works.

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