Mr. Holland's (latest) opus.
It wasn’t until the third inning tonight that, while watching Derek Holland pitch, I thought of C.C. Sabathia, who weighs about two derekhollands and thus hasn’t exactly been evoked for me before while Holland was on the mound.
I thought of Sabathia after Holland had punched out the first two Arkansas batters in the top of the third and then, after walking leadoff hitter Nate Sutton, coaxed an inning ending fielder’s choice, shortstop to second, to end the inning and keep the game scoreless.
I thought of Sabathia because, at that point, Holland had allowed just one hit – a bunt dropped by Sutton down the third base line, leading off the game, that Holland fielded, double-clutched on, and fired to first, only to have the ball deflect off first baseman Emerson Frostad’s glove, allowing Sutton to scamper to second (where he’d be stranded after two flyouts and a strikeout of cleanup hitter Corey Smith, who flailed away at a spectacular 81-mph change). The scorekeeper, much as Bob Webb did when Sabathia mishandled a swinging bunt in the fifth inning of his August 31 start against Pittsburgh, ruled the play a single, charging Holland with an error to account for the extra base Sutton got.
The play was close enough at first – with or without the Holland double-clutch – to have ruled it a two-base error, and no base hit. And when Holland had completed three, having struck out four with a balanced array of nastiness, even if his velocity sat at 91-93 rather than a few ticks higher, I began to think that he might have been on his way to a Sabathia-esque one-hitter that could (should?) have been a no-no.
No exaggeration: More than two or three players in the Travelers dugout were cheering when the second hitter of the game, Wilberto Ortiz, fouled off a couple two-strike pitches in a row. Getting fired up when a teammate fouls off a couple fastballs. In the first inning. It was the kind of reaction you might expect to see from a high school or college team facing an All-American that nobody was supposed to beat. Not from a minor league team who had the other team on the brink of elimination.
They knew they weren’t supposed to beat Holland.
In the fourth, Arkansas managed its second hit off of Holland, a badly mis-hit looper over first base off the bat of the right-handed-hitting Smith that had no more life than a tossed horseshoe, checking up as soon as it landed 20 feet or so over Frostad’s head. A legitimate hit that no scorekeeper could have taken credit for, but a crummy hit nonetheless.
That was it.
Two hits off Holland in six innings of work, one on a bunt that could have been ruled an error and another on a lob over first. One walk. Six strikeouts, two coming on great-looking changes. Only 71 pitches needed to get through six (just under 12 pitches per inning), a cool 70 percent of which went for strikes. While Holland pitched brilliantly as usual, he took a no-decision as Frisco didn’t break the scoreless tie until pushing three unearned runs across in the bottom of the seventh and holding on for a 3-1 win.
So Neftali Feliz takes the ball tomorrow night, as Frisco and Arkansas play Game Five, with the winner piling on the mound.
As for Holland, his season ends with a 13-1, 2.27 regular season record (between Clinton, Bakersfield, and Frisco) and a ridiculous 1-1, 0.44 mark in the Texas League playoffs that featured, over three starts, a line in 20.2 innings of one earned run on 10 hits and four walks, with 18 strikeouts.
Combine the regular season with the post-season and Holland’s numbers look like this: 14-2, 2.05 in 29 starts, with 121 hits (.201 opponents’ average) and 44 walks allowed in 171.1 innings, and 175 strikeouts. Only four home runs allowed, one of which bounced off the outfielder’s glove.
And consider this:
In Low A this season, opponents hit .228 off of Holland.
In High A, opponents hit .185.
In AA, opponents hit .163 in the regular season.
In AA, opponents hit .141 in the playoffs.
Come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t so strange for the Travelers to be cheering foul balls.