Injuries have deprived the Texas Rangers’ rotation of proven major-league starters, and they remain stuck in survival mode with young, inexperienced pitchers trying to hold their own at the game’s top level.
Derek Holland, young but armed with plenty of experience, has remained healthy. Along with Yu Darvish, Holland is supposed to provide the Rangers with a steady outing each time out and was doing that early on this season.
Of late, though, Holland has been eminently hittable, and the last two times he had pitched, the Rangers’ struggling lineup had been unable to dig out of consecutive large deficits.
Holland put them in another early hole Friday night, but this time, the Rangers’ bats responded. As it turns out, Holland responded as well.
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Holland retired the final 12 batters he faced after issuing four runs in the first two innings, and Nelson Cruz had a two-run single in the ninth as the Rangers returned to Busch Stadium for the first time since the 2011 World Series and won 6-4.
Cruz went 2 for 5 and drove in three runs, and Neal Cotts got the win after escaping a St. Louis threat in the eighth. But it took six innings for the offenses to recharge after two wild innings to start the game.
The Rangers broke through in the ninth as Ian Kinsler opened with a single. He went to third on Elvis Andrus’ sacrifice bunt when the throw to first got away. Andrus moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch, and both scored on Cruz’s single through the middle.
But it seemed unimaginable that either team would go six innings without scoring after the first two high-scoring frames.
St. Louis opened with consecutive doubles against Holland for a 1-0 lead, and Allen Craig hit a third double for a 3-0 lead after a walk to Matt Holliday. The next three hitters hit the ball sharply, including a bouncer to third that resulted in Craig being thrown out at home.
“In the first inning, I was catching too much of the middle,” Holland said. “I continued attacking the zone, but I was getting more of the corners.”
The Rangers, though, responded in the second, an inning that they started with back-to-back ground-rule doubles by A.J. Pierzynski and Mitch Moreland. Tyler Lyons retired the next two batters before issuing an inexcusable two-out walk to Holland.
Kinsler also took a walk to load the bases, and Lyons fell behind Andrus 3-0 before the shortstop punched a two-run single into left field to tie the game. Lyons was done, but the Rangers weren’t as Cruz grounded an RBI single to left for a 4-3 lead.
Holland couldn’t hold the edge. Pete Kozma led off the Cardinals’ second with a double, went to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored the tying run on a passed ball against Pierzynski.
But that was all for either team until the ninth. Holland, who allowed four hits to the first eight Cardinals batters, didn’t allow another. He finished by retiring the final 12 he faced, including all three in the seventh on swinging strikeouts, and 16 of 17 before being lifted for pinch-hitter Jurickson Profar in the eighth at only 91 pitches.
The four hits — all doubles — that Holland allowed were the fewest against him since May 25 at Seattle. He had allowed at least eight in 7 of 8 starts.
“[The offense] stepped it up and helped me,” Holland said. “If they’re going to put up runs, I have to limit the damage.”
The problem for the Rangers is that St. Louis long man Joe Kelly was nearly as effective in relief of Lyons. Kelly allowed five singles in five innings before giving way with two outs in the seventh.
The Rangers had a chance after Adrian Beltre’s single ended Kelly’s night. Pierzynski followed with a double off Randy Choate, but Beltre, still bothered by a tight left hamstring, was stopped at third. Moreland grounded out to end the threat.
St. Louis had its best chance in the eighth after Neal Cotts retired the first two batters. But Craig singled, Yadier Molina doubled and World Series hero David Freese was walked intentionally. Cotts filled the count against Jon Jay, who hit a chopper to first that Moreland fielded and threw to Cotts for the final out.
“It was huge,” manager Ron Washington said. “They had the bases loaded. If they score there, we’d have to deal with their closer [Edward Mujica].”
Joe Nathan picked up his 23rd save, but needed a running catch by David Murphy at the wall in left-center field to preserve a scoreless ninth inning.