ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Greg Holland arrived in St. Louis Monday, and by 9:15 that night, he was already on the mound in a do-or-die situation.
It went about as poorly as a first impression could.
“It’s a strange thing when you’re a pitcher and randomly have those occasions where you don’t know where the ball is going. Tonight was one of those nights,” he said afterward.
The 32-year-old didn’t exactly get the easiest of draws, coming into the 10th inning of a 4-4 game on a 40-degree night (after previously ramping up in Florida) with the added challenge of throwing to backup Cardinal catcher Francisco Pena.
Yadier Molina had been switched out for a pinch runner in the ninth as the Cards scrambled to tie the game and could only watch as his understudy attempted to shepherd Holland through his debut.
Circumstances weren’t ideal, but manager Mike Matheny didn’t hesitate to go to his new pitcher in the highest-leverage situation of the game.
“No doubt,” he said of his decision to call Holland’s number.
After all, this is why the Cardinals signed the veteran. He’s the high-tension stopper, and the team never planned to work him into a meaningless sixth inning to get his feet wet. His debut was going to be tough no matter when it came, and it’s not unusual for a closer to pitch the top of an inning when the team is at home.
“I’d expect to be in the game,” Holland said. “I was looking forward to getting in there sooner rather than later, kind of getting that first outing out of the way.”
It was ugly.
The 32-year old walked the first two hitters he faced, bouncing several pitches well short of the plate and at times missing the zone by feet.
A sacrifice bunt gifted the Cardinals an out, but moved both runners into scoring position. St. Louis countered by issuing an intentional walk to Manny Pina to reload the bases, in hopes a lucky grounder could end the inning with a double play.
But the maneuver also left no room for error for Holland, who looked far more likely to issue another walk than to find a bat- much less for bad contact.
But Matheny decided to ride it out, giving Holland a chance to wriggle free.
“Just trying to give him a chance to get through it there,” Matheny said. “When he gave up the run, it was time to give it over.”
Holland walked Orlando Arcia on four straight pitches to push in the go-ahead run, and was pulled. The Cards would go down in order in the bottom half and lose 5-4.
In all, Holland threw just six of his 19 pitches for strikes, only one of them called. Fans started off groaning and shifting back and forth, and were offering full-throated boos by the time Arcia’s at bat ended in a free base.
“You hope it’s a rarity, but sometimes you just don’t have a good feel for the strike zone. Today, I struggled with my command from the go. I don’t think there were any outside factors. I felt good in the pen, I felt good warming up, then when the inning started I was behind the entire time,” Holland said. “Tonight was one of those nights, but that’s why you play 162 games. I’ll wake up tomorrow and prepare and get ready to go do it again.”