ANAHEIM -- The Rangers, to this point at least, have saved their best when playing the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. On Sunday afternoon, rookie left-handed pitcher Derek Holland took that best to a new level. After flirting with a no-hitter for 5 2/3 innings, Holland settled for the first shutout of his career in pitching the Rangers to a 7-0 victory over the Angels. He is the youngest left-hander to throw a shutout in Rangers history and he did it against a first-place team that was leading the American League in hitting.
"What an outstanding job by Holland," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Complete-game shutout against a team like that. That's not easy to do against a team like that. They're a pretty good team. We are too. But that kid stayed focused for nine innings ... he did everything he had to do." Holland, who walked Gary Matthews Jr. in the third, did not allow a hit until Maicer Izturis smacked a single up the middle in the sixth. Vladimir Guerrero had a single in the seventh and Jeff Mathis had one in the eighth. That was it: three singles, a walk and eight strikeouts. "It was just a big game and I wanted to win," Holland said. "I needed it. It was huge to get my confidence back up. I had my team working behind me and I just went out and attacked the strike zone." He did indeed. Holland, in sync with catcher Taylor Teagarden all day, threw 96 pitches, 73 for strikes. "He came at us," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It wasn't any secret. He threw a lot of first-pitch fastballs and did as good a job of getting two-pitch outs as we've seen in a long time. He was ahead in the count all day long. That's partially due to us trying to work pitches early, and he was coming right after us. "He pitched a terrific game." In doing so, Holland helped the Rangers take two of three from the Angels this weekend in Anaheim and move to within 3 1/2 games of first place in the AL West. The Rangers are 9-3 against the Angels this year. "We just seem to raise our game against teams that have a lot of hype behind them," outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "We take it to the next level. We're the same way against Boston. It would be nice to do that against everybody." The Rangers, who are off on Monday, can start doing that on Tuesday against the Indians in Cleveland. "So far, so good, but we have a long way to go," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "The name of the game is not beating the Angels, it's making the playoffs. We need to go into Cleveland and not have a letdown. We need to keep playing at a high level of intensity." Holland out-pitched Angels starter John Lackey, who threw a career-high 131 pitches in 6 2/3 innings while allowing four runs on eight hits, two walks and eight strikeouts. "The way I looked at it, I had to match him pitch-for-pitch," Holland said. That was tough at first. Lackey started out just as strong as Holland, retiring 10 of the first 12 batters he faced while walking two and striking out six. Then the Rangers got two huge breaks in the fourth after Byrd singled with one out and was forced out on Hamilton's grounder. Hank Blalock then rolled an easy grounder between first and second. First baseman Robb Quinlan went after it, then let second baseman Howard Kendrick take it. Quinlan went to cover first, but Lackey did too, and in the confusion nobody got there before Blalock. It went as an infield single but Lackey's inning went from bad to worse on the next batter when Esteban German lofted a deep but otherwise routine fly ball to right. Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu was there but dropped it for an error that allowed both runners to score. "I closed my glove too early," Abreu said "It was bad. I should make that play. No excuses. That cost part of the game. Lackey could be out of the inning. My fault." Turns out that's all Holland needed for run support, but Byrd drove in three more runs with a single, a sacrifice fly and his 12th home run of the year. Teagarden added a two-run home run. Holland did the rest by effectively using all four of his pitches: fastball, curve, slider and changeup. "He was throwing first-pitch strikes all game," Teagarden said. "He was commanding his fastball and getting ahead of hitters to get to his offspeed pitches. He had command of his offspeed pitches down in the zone and on both sides of the plate. He was ahead of just about every hitter." This was the longest a Rangers pitcher has made it through a game without giving up a hit since Juan Dominguez threw six no-hit innings against the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 5, 2005. "I wasn't thinking about that," Holland said. "I don't pay any attention to that. I still have to pitch, either way." He did that part very well.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.