PITTSBURGH — On the first day in Philadelphia, Derek Holland walked up to a beat writer -- this one -- who had missed the Atlanta sweep and jokingly reintroduced himself. That turned into a running gag through a week in Pennsylvania that ended up being a nightmare for the Giants.
After three straight losses, evening the record on the road trip, Holland asked if I planned to follow the team to Pittsburgh. Told yes, he laughed and suggested I take my bad luck elsewhere. Anywhere else. After the first loss in Pittsburgh on Friday, he called me over, smiling as he asked why I was still around the team.
“You’ve got to change something, man, change it up, change up the luck,,” he joked. “Wear a different shirt or something. Do something.”
There is luck involved in this game, as the Giants found out early on Sunday. They hit six balls at least 100 mph in the first four innings and didn’t see any of them fall for hits. But for the most part, a team will make its own luck.
It was pretty simple Sunday. It didn’t matter who was sitting in the press box or what shirt he was wearing or what kind of magic beans the Giants might have hidden in their dugout. All they needed was a strong start, and Holland finally provided one. He took a shutout into the seventh and the Giants won 5-0, snapping a six-game losing streak to the Phillies and Pirates.
“We needed that in the worst way,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I said it would take a good pitching effort to get over this. Give him credit — he took over.”
Bochy wasn’t the only one giving that message. As Holland warmed up, he was approached by pitching coach Curt Young.
“We need you today,” Young told him. “We’ve got to step up.”
Against the Pirates, that meant pitching through plenty of traffic. Holland walked five and gave up four hits, but he made pitches when he had to. He repeatedly busted the Pirates inside with fastballs and catcher Nick Hundley said Holland’s command was the best it has been all season. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, the Rangers’ hitting coach when Holland was a youngster in 2010, said his team simply had to tip its themed caps.
“He beat us with the kitchen sink,” Hurdle said. “The ball was around the zone. We pushed to get out there, and we couldn’t come away with really even hard contact in those situations.”
The Giants had plenty of hard contact early, and for a while, Bochy thought this would be one of his buzzard’s luck games. That changed when Gorkys Hernandez found the seats in the sixth. An extended rally was capped by Hundley’s three-run bomb into the same seats. Richard Rodriguez hung a first-pitch curveball and Hundley skied it.
“Thankfully he made a mistake with the breaking ball,” he said. “You get something like that, you’ve got to do damage on it.”
The homer, Hundley’s fourth of the year, capped an all-around day for the catcher. Holland credited his guidance, and that was true in more ways than just pitch-calling. Holland lost track of the outs in the second inning and started walking off the mound after the second one. Hundley held his hands up and yelled back at the striding pitcher.
“Hey,” he said. “We’ve gotta get the third one.”
Holland got plenty more, pitching so effectively that Bochy sent him back out for the seventh to get past 100 pitches. When he came out for the ball, Holland tried to talk his way into more. That was enough on this day, though. The Giants needed a big performance and the left-hander gave it to them. He clinched a happy flight home, which allowed for one last joke on the way out of Pennsylvania.
“You’re off the hook,” he whispered as reporters walked away from his locker.