ARLINGTON, Texas -- The 4-0 lead seemed safe, or as safe as a lead can be when Albert Pujols is due up two hitters later. And so, for the 51,539 in attendance at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington, the only ninth inning drama Sunday night centered around whether manager Ron Washington would let Derek Holland finish what he started.
Holland was two outs shy of becoming the first starter since Josh Beckett (Game 6, 2003) to throw a complete-game shutout in the World Series, and the first to do so in the American League since Jack Morris's Game 7 masterpiece in 1991.
The conversation lasted a few minutes and cameras showed both Holland and Washington enjoying a good laugh.
Later, after Texas closer Neftali Feliz nailed down the final two outs to complete the 4-0 shutout of the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series, the two shared the details of their mound talk.
"He was begging to stay in the game," said Washington with a smile. "I just told him if you want to stay out here, get on your knees."
Then Washington paused for comic effect.
"He walked off the field," the manager said.
"I was begging, as he said," said a somewhat sheepish Holland. "I didn't get on my knees . . . I was trying everything I could to stay out there, but unfortunately, I couldn't."
In retrospect, it was about the only thing Holland didn't do Sunday night. He limited the St. Louis Cardinals, the same St. Louis Cardinals who totaled 16 runs the night before, to two hits -- both to Lance Berkaman.
Holland was supremely efficient. He had five 1-2-3 innings and another inning in which he faced the minimum number of hitters. And in perhaps the most amazing feat, the Cardinals hit just three balls into the outfield all night.
Beyond Berkman's two hits -- a double to right in the second and a leadoff single to center in the fifth -- the only other ball to reach the outfield was a routine flyout to center by Yadier Molina in the fifth.
Otherwise, the Cards had nothing but bad swings off Holland, with a succession of slow rollers, foul balls and weak popups. Holland made like some daredevil pilot at an air show.
"In, out, up, down . . . " said Washington. "He was just outstanding."
Indeed he was, which was quite a turnaround from his previous starts this postseason. In one ALDS outing and another two in the ALCS against Detroit, Holland had combined to pitch a total of 12 13 innings. He couldn't get out of the third in Game 2 of the ALCS, and was done before the fifth inning was complete in Game 6.
It wasn't for lack of stuff. Holland showed over the course of the regular season -- during which he won 16 games -- that he can be dominant. In 11 of his 32 starts, Holland allowed one or no runs and he had four complete-game shutouts.
What occasionally hinders Holland, however, are his emotions. He tends to be excitable, with lots of nervous energy both on the mound and off.
That's why it was a good sign that he sat quietly in the dugout between innings Sunday, rather than his usual habit of pacing.
The newfound calm, he said, was the result of a different mental approach.
"It's more like a boxing approach," said Holland, "is what I've been telling everybody. I've got nine rounds and in between innings is when I sit in my corner and relax."
But the key to keeping himself under control may have come before the game. Fox cameras caught Washington talking to Holland, his hands on his starter's shoulders, delivering an earnest pep talk minutes before the lefty took the mound.
Holland listened attentively, nodding occasionally, soaking in the message. Washington was reminding Holland to not go too far inside on the Cardinals' lineup.
"I made sure that when I went in," Holland said, "it was to kind of brush them off the plate a little bit, so I could expand the zone a little."
Washington's message seemed to take and produce the desired result. After racing around the bases in Game 3, the Cards had only one baserunner reach scoring position against Holland.
Not even Pujols was a factor, going hitless in three at-bats off Holland. Of course, it helped that, each time he came to the plate, the bases were empty and Holland could afford to pitch more aggressively than he otherwise might.
It was that kind of night for Holland, a night in which everything he tried worked, right up until his ninth-inning appeal to his manager.