So with two out in the ninth inning on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, that’s exactly what Holland did. The reliever needed one more out in the club’s eventual 3-2 win over the Angels, and Holland had two strikes on Jared Walsh with the bases loaded and David Fletcher on third.
There came the signature slider. It took one hop in the dirt, bounced off Perez’s chest as he went to block it and then bounced to hit Walsh in the leg. As the ball rolled past Perez, he looked up to see Fletcher halfway down the third-base line looking to score on a wild pitch, so Perez fired the ball to Hunter Dozier at third for the pickoff and third out. The Angels challenged the call, but Fletcher was ruled out.
Just like Holland had thought it would go.
“We got the old trick play called,” Holland said, tongue in cheek. “Me and Salvy talked about it. I was going to throw it off his chest and we were going to throw [Fletcher] out at third. So, glad it worked.”
Holland joked about the “trick play,” but his willingness to throw a pitch in the dirt in that situation comes from his veteran experience and years of throwing to Perez in high-leverage and late-inning games with Kansas City. That kind of experience was a focus for the Royals this offseason when making additions to their club, and a big reason why they re-signed Holland this season.
“I was just kind of laughing because he and I both know in those situations, I’m going to throw it in the dirt, and we also know he’s going to go get it,” Holland said. “That’s so reassuring as a pitcher, knowing that when you’re trying to expand, you don’t have to be finite with, ‘I want the ball to be in the air so you can catch it, but I also don’t want it to be in the middle of the plate.’
“I just let it rip, and I know he’s going to go get it. You’re not expecting to get an out, but I’m not afraid to bounce one or two or three or four with a man on third and him back there. That makes me a better player and us a better team.”
There was no doubt from the Royals that Perez had nabbed Fletcher.
“I knew the game was over,” Whit Merrifield said. “Salvy’s got gold right here on his chest. If there’s somebody you want throwing to a bag, it’s that guy.”
“There’s certain players that have that fearlessness, where they’re not afraid of what the negative ramifications might be, they’re thinking about what the potential bonus would be if we could pull something off,” manager Mike Matheny added. “And that’s rare. It’s fun to watch. Obviously it’s a game changer, like tonight.”
After another stellar start from lefty Danny Duffy, who allowed one run in six innings and held the Angels to 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, the Royals turned to their bullpen, knowing they didn’t have a lot of availability after the previous two days. Tuesday was just the third time a starter finished the sixth inning this season — and the second time Duffy has done it. On Duffy’s 100th pitch of the night, he struck out Jack Mayfield on a 95-mph elevated fastball with the bases loaded to end the top of the sixth inning.
“I was just trying to empty the tank in that situation,” Duffy, who has shown an increase in velocity on four of his five pitches this year, said. “We were able to get a good heater in there, and he swung under it, and that was a big one, for sure.”
Jake Brentz put together a scoreless seventh, and Wade Davis got two outs in the eighth while giving up a run before Holland came on to piece together the four-out save.
With two runners on and one out in the ninth, Holland struck out Mike Trout swinging on a slider. By this point, the limited capacity crowd at Kauffman Stadium was making it seem like every seat was full.
Holland was just focused on trusting his catcher. Like always.
“Don’t give up a homer,” Holland said of his approach to Trout, who struck out four times in five at-bats. “I mean, I don’t know. Trust Salvy. I don’t want to give away all my secrets, but I don’t have any. You just go out there, and if you’ve got a really, really good idea of what you want to do, you shake Salvy off.
“Other than that, you trust him and you let it fly. And that’s what we did today.”