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After dominant stretch, Holland slips up

After dominant stretch, Holland slips up

KANSAS CITY -- Oh, the perilous life of a closer: Riding high for a while, and then comes that day when you slip off the saddle.

Greg Holland was galloping for the Royals. Entering Monday's 2-1, 11-inning loss to the White Sox, he had fully recovered from an early-season nightmare in Philadelphia where he managed to blow one game and had to be bailed out in the other by Kelvin Herrera.

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But then came a glorious split doubleheader on April 21 at Boston. If there were any lingering doubts about Holland's return to form, they were obliterated by the double-save day against the Red Sox. He reeled off a 1-2-3 inning in each game of the sweep, striking out five of the six batters.

He kept going. In the nine games following Philadelphia through Sunday's perfect 10th inning -- he got credit for the Royals' 6-5 victory -- Holland had six saves and a 0.00 ERA. He also had 16 strikeouts -- and just two walks -- in his nine innings.

Holland never lost the faith.

"I never really felt like I got off track. I really just was trying to be too fine early in counts my first couple of outings and I was putting guys on because of it," Holland said. "When you put guys on, one hit can cost you the game. But if you go out there and make people beat you with three or four swings, you're going to be successful nine times out of 10."

Because he was falling behind in counts, he was throwing more fastballs, becoming predictable and getting hit.

"To simplify it, he forgot how to close," manager Ned Yost said. "He forgot that, 'Hey, it doesn't matter, you come in there with your stuff on the attack.' And he was trying to [think], 'OK, make sure I throw my fastball and get ahead and all that.' So when he got back to closer mentality, he was right back to being dominant."

But even dominant closers can have an off day, and that's what happened Monday when Holland relieved James Shields with a 1-0 lead. The White Sox ninth started with three straight singles. Yikes, bases loaded and no outs.

"I felt pretty good, I just fell behind 1-0, 2-0 to the first couple batters, and then I threw some pretty good pitches," Holland said in the quiet clubhouse. "You can't really pick when you're [down] 2-0, so I had to throw the ball over the plate. They did a good job of not doing too much, just putting the ball in play and giving themselves a chance. And that's what they did."

He induced slugger Paul Konerko to rap back to the mound and Holland started a 1-2-3 double play. Then, after going 3-0 on Conor Gillaspie, he threw an intentional ball four to load the bases again.

"I knew he'd be trying to hit early in the count. He took a pretty good swing on me [Sunday] so I tried to throw a first-pitch slider strike and I didn't hit with it. Once I fell behind, I wanted to make him hit a tough pitch, because we had first base open," Holland said. "My intention wasn't to pitch around him, but once I fell behind, I was going to make him swing at some bad pitches to get myself back in the count. I wasn't going to throw him a cookie just because I was behind, not with first base open."

Up came Alexei Ramirez, who hit a single up the middle that was stopped by second baseman Chris Getz. However, Getz couldn't make the play and the tying run scored. On the same play, eventual Sox hero Jordan Danks was out in a rundown to end the inning.

"I don't think he was exceptionally sharp today, behind in the count," Yost said. "He did a great job of getting out of there giving up one run, bases loaded nobody out. Got Konerko, a tough hitter, to ground into a 1-2-3 double play. Fell behind Gillaspie and Ramirez didn't hit the ball hard, he just hit it in the right spot. But to get out of it with one run was a pretty good job."

Holland got his second blown save after seven successes and his first run allowed since Philly. But he was determined to shrug it off.

"I try to take 'em all the same," Holland said. "I've blown games before. I'm going to learn from it. I'm disappointed, because we had the lead in the ninth inning. We should've swept the White Sox at home, but we didn't. So I'm going to wake up tomorrow and get myself prepared to win a game tomorrow."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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