There was a sports moment in 1989, when I was 20 and Troy
Aikman was 22, that I’ll never forget.
It was a mid-November game between the 1-8 Dallas Cowboys against the 4-5
Phoenix Cardinals. A game that Dallas
led much of the way before losing it late when Tom Tupa hit some Cardinals receiver
on a 70- or 80-yard pass to pull out a narrow win.
What I remember most about that game was how Aikman, who
hadn’t played in a month and half due to injury, stood tall in the pocket that
day, as we’d soon learn that he always would, taking a beating but still throwing
for an NFL rookie record 379 yards. It
was another loss in what would be a one-win season for the Cowboys – and an
0-11 rookie campaign for Aikman – but it was a top 10 energizing game for me, because
I’d seen the future developing right in front of my eyes, and knew there was
something special coming together. Aikman
fired strike after strike, and for the first time in years, I could hardly wait
for the next game and the next season, and for the quarterback’s career and
franchise’s better fortunes to start to unfold.
I saw another 22-year-old tonight spark some of that same
excitement. Derek Holland fired strike
after strike as well – 29 out of 42, a solid 69 percent that was better even
than the 21 of 40 that Aikman completed en route to his 379-yard day – and they
were largely spectacular strikes. Low
and outside fastballs at 92-96, filthy sliders tying veteran hitters up, an
impressive tempo and a noticeable poise that disguised what had to be a swarm
of big league debut jitters. A scoreless
2.1 innings without a walk, three singles, two strikeouts, and lots of helpless
hitters. He’s not going to be in middle
relief for long.
I’m not putting championship rings on Derek Holland’s
fingers yet, or commissioning a Hall of Fame bust, but what we saw tonight, in
a game that he not only kept in check but nearly earned a win in due to our .988-OPS-ing
third baseman’s ninth-inning work, was pretty strong evidence that when this
team does win, Holland is going to be an integral part of things.
Just like the quarterback made clear in an otherwise unremarkable
1989 loss .