A few things this morning:
● After all of the heartwarming and nostalgic pomp and circumstance around the Rangers' 40th anniversary celebration and Eric Nadel's long-overdue induction into the Rangers' Hall of Fame, Derek Holland toed the rubber and began his latest attempt to get his season back on track ... and promply hung a 1-2 slider to Austin Jackson that was clobbered over the left field fence. Five pitches after that, he allowed a 3-1 single to center field, and I think it was about at that point that most of us began to take note of the developing pits in our stomachs, because Holland yet again looked like didn't have it, and if he didn't have it in a game where he was matched up against Justin Verlander, the Rangers were probably dead in the water.
At that point, though, something changed with Holland that we've wanted to see change for quite a while, and though I don't know whether it's especially realistic to expect this change to stick, it apparently had a significant impact last night -- and the change was that Holland got mad:
"I was very upset with myself," [Holland] said. "Going into the game, as I was walking in from the bullpen, I felt like I had everything I needed today. One pitch got away from me. This is a good ballclub we're going up against. They have a lineup that can match up with us. I left a pitch for Jackson to hit and he took care of it. I took care of what I needed to do. I got pissed at myself and I made the adjustment and it worked from there. I kept my cool. I didn't get as pissed as I normally would and kind of pace around. I gathered myself, slowed everything down, told myself, 'Hey, that's one, don't worry about it. Let's keep plugging away.' I did."
After not recording an out with his first nine pitches of the game, Holland recorded 23 outs with his next 93 pitches while attacking early and often with a perceptibly zippier and better-commanded fastball; it was, in fact, the best velocity he's displayed in any home start (93.3 mph average; 95.7 mph max) since the beginning of April, and he coupled it with a more confident/aggressive approach in that he consistently attacked both left- and-right-handed hitters with up-and-in heat that the Tigers didn't seem entirely prepared for. Yeah, he missed a few times over the middle of the plate and was fortunate that he didn't get burned for those mistakes, but it was Holland at his very best (7.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 1 HR), and it was the sort of performance that tends to rejuvenate all manner of hope as far as Holland "figuring it out" and taking the next step forward.
Once again, that's probably not too realistic. It was a great start, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here or formulate unrealistic expectations as far as this signifying a turning point in Holland's development. We've seen enough of him to know that isn't a smart play. Just be grateful for this one start where Holland stared down Verlander and matched him pitch for pitch, and hope that there was some predictive, repeatable element in last night's start that he can carry forward with him.
● Since this was a Holland/Verlander pitcher's duel, the score was naturally knotted at 1-1 going into the ninth inning, and if I may say so myself, the top of that ninth inning was about as harrowing as anything we've watched unfold all season. Alexi Ogando -- who had been summoned into the game after Holland began to waver just a tad in the eighth inning -- induced the first out without incident, but then proceeded to lose Miguel Cabrera on balls. His replacement, Robbie Ross, did the same with Prince Fielder, after which things took a very pecuiliar turn as Ross then began to pitch to a lefty-crushing Delmon Young, even though Mike Adams was already fully warmed up:
In an attempt to get reliever Robbie Ross some confidence, Washington allowed the left-hander to throw one more pitch after he walked Fielder in the ninth inning. That pitch was a ball to Delmon Young. At that point, Washington had seen enough.
“Once [Ross] walked Fielder and the next pitch was a ball, I had to go get Mike Adams,” Washington said. “Thank God for Mike Adams.”
Adams then entered to face Young already down 1-0.
“Why I didn’t start [against Young], I’m not sure,” Adams said. “It’s not often you come in with a pitch already thrown. The situation I came in was a little bit different, little crazy, but I just kind of blocked that situation out.”
It was an extremely perplexing attempt at bolstering Ross's confidence, given the enormity of the situation at hand, the risk entailed by having Ross throw even a single pitch to Young, and the fact that putting Adams in a 1-0 hole really put him at a disadvantage once he began dealing to Young -- and while Adams fought back in the at-bat, Young ended up slapping a ground-ball single past a lunging Michael Young at second base to load the bases with one out. But, hey, one 6-2 force out and one fly out to center field later, the inning was over, the Rangers had escaped from their moment of great peril, and all was (sort of) forgiven. This could have gone south very, very quickly, and maybe it actually should have gone awry for Texas, but it didn't, and so here we are.
● For any and all grousing that might ensue over the way the top half of that ninth inning was managed, though, the bottom half was perfectly handled. Two huge walks from Nelson Cruz and Michael Young (albeit not terribly difficult walks), followed by Craig Gentry pinch-hitting and attempting (and failing) to get the sacrifice bunt dow), a Geovany Soto strikeout, and then Mike Olt getting the call off the bench in place of Mitch Moreland against a lefty-tossing Phil Coke. I'd slather the unrestrained hyperbole on nice and thick here, but I don't think it's really necessary; that's what .gifs and .mp3s were made for, after all. I'll just call it a splendid piece of hitting, and leave it at that for the moment.