ARLINGTON -- The Rangers' clubhouse looked like an elementary school classroom two days after the last day of class -- boxes everywhere, walls stripped down to the essentials and no one but the clubhouse attendants milling about. It was in this environment that 2011 Rangers breakout pitcher Derek Holland tried to put his season into perspective. As late as July 2, it looked like Holland was headed toward his third consecutive largely forgettable season with the Rangers, giving up five runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Marlins. Though he had pitched one shutout, his ERA still sat at 5.10 after that start.
"I definitely matured, that's the big thing," Holland said. "That's what it all comes down to. I feel like I grew stronger as a pitcher and did a good job for the most part, except here and there with some of my starts." From that point on, Holland won more games than every other American League pitcher other than Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander of the Tigers, going 10-1 in his final 15 starts. His 2.77 ERA was the second best among Rangers starters, just a hair behind the 2.73 posted by staff ace C.J. Wilson. "We all have ups and downs, but I had a rollercoaster season, I feel, and I'm not going to let that affect anything," Holland said. "I worked really hard, continued to battle through the hard times and the good times. I think this was a good season for me. Got to get ready for next season." Gone were the two-innings-or-less starts of earlier in the season, and they were replaced by quality starts. For the last 15 starts of Holland's season, only once did he go less than two innings, and three times he pitched shutouts. In his biggest start of the season, with the Rangers down 2-1 to the Cardinals in the World Series, Holland pulled out one of the more dominating performances in Fall Classic history, going 8 1/3 scoreless innings, the longest by an AL pitcher in the World Series since Andy Pettitte in 1996. What appeared to be a series-turning point will now be little more than a footnote, due to the Cardinals' comeback. "It obviously meant a lot -- I pitched a huge game and made a statement when I was out there, but at the same time, it's more about the team," Holland said. "It's not about myself. I have nothing I care more about than winning the World Series." Even though he turned in a much better World Series than in 2010 -- in which he gave up three earned runs on four walks in one inning -- Holland could hardly sleep knowing that the Rangers left something on the table this season. "I am probably going to feel the pain for a couple days. It's the World Series, I just lost the biggest game of the year for us," Holland said. "That's huge for us. Once it's a couple days, we'll let it settle, and move on from there and get ready for next year." Depending on what happens with the Rangers in the offseason, Holland may have a shot to take the mantle of staff ace from Wilson and be counted on to start Opening Day. Just one day after the World Series, Holland is not ready to look at next year or the Rangers' attempt to reach a third consecutive Fall Classic, something no team has done since the Yankees made it from 1998-2001. "That's true, but this just ended," Holland said of a possible return to the Fall Classic. "We're not going to go too far yet. We didn't get what we wanted. We just have to use that for next year again and push ourselves again." Around that same time as his turnaround that began on July 7, Holland began growing a mustache that was the butt of many Twitter jokes throughout the playoffs. Going into next season, Holland has not decided what direction he wants to go with the "Dutchstache." "I don't know. Obviously I'm going to let it grow out through November," Holland said. I'm doing the November thing [no-shave November]. It's going to help out, but we'll see. I'm not really going to say too much, because I don't know what I'm going to do yet." Holland will go back to Ohio for a week, and then return to Texas to prepare for another season with the disappointment from this season still lingering, mixed with the success Holland experienced at the same time. "We appreciate what we've done, and we're happy and blessed with the things that happened, but at the same time, it's a letdown for us," Holland said. "We made it for the second year in a row, and we didn't get the job down. I feel like we let ourselves down, our fans down and Texas down. We had the team to do it."
Louie Horvath is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.