In another season, another jam, the former manager of the Texas Rangers would have visited Derek Holland on the mound, too.
“Wash would have laid into me,” Holland recollected.
“But this was more to get me to calm down.”
It was the top of the second inning Monday, and pitcher Holland had just faced his eighth Toronto batter of the game.
Three of the eight, alas, had already hit home runs.
As Ron Washington used to do before him, first-year Rangers manager Jeff Banister walked purposefully to the mound for an unscheduled “chat” with the young lefty.
Banister, however, kept it business-like.
“Try to make an adjustment, try to find a way to reset him,” Banister said, explaining the visit. “Try to get him in a position so that he could start making some better pitches.”
I’m not going to sit and dwell on this. We’ve got a game to play Wednesday.
Rangers pitcher Derek Holland
It didn’t work Monday, however. Holland was so bad, so hittable, so smack-dab in the Blue Jays’ wheelhouse, that not even a few R-rated words of “encouragement” from Washington would have roused him.
“I’ve pitched in big games before,” Holland said later, after only lasting two innings in the Rangers’ 8-4 defeat.
“My mentality is strong. It’s not going to change. I’m not going to sit here and say I suck. Yeah, I sucked today, but tomorrow is a new day and I’m not going to sit and dwell on this. We’ve got a game to play Wednesday.”
Holland wasn’t making excuses. He was trying, it seemed, to stave off a postgame inner meltdown. He knew what the day’s stakes had been.
He had laid a rotten, two-inning, six-run egg in front of 47,679 on a day when the Rangers could have punched their ticket to the ALCS.
Now, if they want to continue playing, they have to return to Toronto and beat the Blue Jays on their home turf again. It’s a task that was made more curious Monday by Toronto manager John Gibbons’ half-baked decision to use ace David Price in relief in a game where the Blue Jays once led 7-1.
The Rangers had their own pitching issues Monday, of course.
After sitting out for four months with a subscapular strain in his left shoulder, Holland returned to the mound in August to mixed reviews.
In nine ALDS games all-time in Arlington, the Rangers have won only one.
In some ways, he was typical Derek Holland during those weeks, which meant that when he was good, he was very good (e.g., an Aug. 30 shutout of the Orioles).
But when he was bad, he was frustratingly bad, like the four starts in September when he was cuffed around twice by both the Astros and Mariners.
Affable and playful, Holland remains one of the team’s most popular players. But he’s not a kid anymore. He turned 29 last weekend and this is Holland’s seventh major league season. He was pitching Monday in his 14th postseason game.
And he laid an egg. A giant one.
The club’s future expectations for Holland appear to remain high. But his past performances haven’t always justified those expectations.
Spring training next year is going to be a critical time for Holland.
The Rangers, meanwhile, still have a chance to stamp their postseason passports and move on. If they could take heart from anything Monday, it was mostly thanks to Gibbons.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is sometimes the best way you win games is don’t let the team get back into it.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons
Indeed, the first question for the Toronto manager after the game was about bringing Price into a lopsided contest.
“Well, I looked at it this way,” Gibbons began. “It was starting to roll around that top a little bit. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is sometimes the best way you win games is don’t let the team get back into it.”
Gibbons rambled on about being worried about Shin-Soo Choo, who already had two hits.
“What we didn’t want to happen is a couple of guys on base, Choo comes up, and R.A. [Dickey] has been known to give up the fly balls,” Gibbons said. “Maybe if that should happen, they’re right back in the game.
6 Hits the Rangers got against David Price in three innings
“And, of course, you watched that Kansas City game. You know how that works. That’s what was behind it.”
Instead of saving Price for Game 5, Gibbons went to the 18-game winner with a seven-run lead in the fifth inning. Not only did he likely eliminate Price as a starter for Wednesday, but he also may have wakened the Rangers bats, because they came to life and rapped six hits off the lefty.
“I thought he was pitching Game 5,” Rangers catcher Rob Chirinos said.
“I’m sure they have a plan,” shortstop Elvis Andrus added. “But I thought Price was going to start Game 5.”
At least there is a Game 5, Elvis said.
More than one Ranger brought up the 2010 ALDS, when the team had to return to Tampa Bay to claim its first postseason series.
To borrow Gibbons’ phrase, they know how that works.