Magic at Busch: Holliday homers in what could be his final Cardi -

Magic at Busch: Holliday homers in what could be his final Cardinal at bat

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ST. LOUIS ( -- Matt Holliday was too emotional to speak with the media Friday before the game, following the public declaration by the Cardinals they did not intend to pick up his 2017 option. The emotion came from his activation from the disabled list, as it was intended to give him a chance to say goodbye; to get the send-off his seven and a half years in St. Louis warranted from the fans.

The team just needed the right spot.

As the game against the Pirates moved to the bottom of the seventh inning, number seven emerged from the dugout and walked to the on deck circle.

Around the stadium, sections began to rise. Some of them stood slowly, as if not ready to acknowledge the moment at hand.

“Pinch hitting, number seven, Matt Holliday,” the PA rang out.

The ovation began. First from the dugout, as teammates who had watched him live in limbo with the organization over the last week finally saw him return to the diamond.

“Once they saw, that was the first ovation he got was from his teammates. These guys understand what an important role he plays in this organization and what a great job he’s done for each of them individually. That’s how it should be. Then the fans took over from there and all the way through,” Mike Matheny said.

More than 43,000 voices joined in and followed Holliday to the batter’s box, all carrying memories of his time in St. Louis.

Maybe they were cheering his four All Star games as a member of the Cardinals. Maybe it was his .294 average and five RBIs during the postseason of 2011 that ended in a World Series Championship, or perhaps his three-run homer in Game 1 of 2014’s NLDS that completed the Cardinals’ incredible comeback against Clayton Kershaw and gave them a 7-6 lead.

He’s done plenty to cheer about in the last seven-and-a-half years. Extended for $120 million in 2010, Holliday has been worth every dime of that seven-year deal. Not many players can make that claim, fewer have done it at such a price tag.

“It’s very rare, especially at that length,” GM John Mozeliak said. “I’m very grateful. I’ve always admired him as a player, even before we traded for him. He was one of those gritty, hard working individuals.”

That grit has brought him back from injuries before. In 2015 he came back from a torn quadricep not once, but twice during the season. He returned 15 days after a pulled hamstring in 2013 after having just come back from a pinched nerve in his neck. This year he took a fastball to the nose and was in the lineup the next day. So even as he stood in with a recently-broken hand, one that has kept him out of action since August 11 and swelled up every time he’s swung a bat, he wasn’t going to spectate.

“I’d think he’ll probably want to try to hit,” Mozeliak predicted earlier in the day. “He’s one of the toughest men I’ve ever been around. I used to always joke with him he had dinosaur bones because it seemed like he never did get hurt. But here we are.”

And there was Holliday, finally standing in after a tearful wave to the fans. What came next was a perfect moment in an imperfect season.

“Everybody in the dugout was saying, ‘Man it’d be so cool if he hits a home run right here,’” Adam Wainwright said. “And he hit it. On an 0-2 pitch.”

On the third pitch, the big outfielder connected with an 0-2 slider and sent it soaring out to right center. He broke into a home run trot as the crowd lost any remaining control of their voices or tear ducts.

It was the start of Holliday’s 156th such jog as a Cardinal, the 11th most in franchise history. He’s made the trip regularly over seven years, hitting 20 or more homers six times - five straight seasons before 2015, and another this year.

He arrived at first and officially reached base, something he’s been great at for the Cardinals. His OBP of .379 is 21st all time for the Redbirds.

The crowd may not have known that number off hand, but their cheers certainly carried the memory of his 45-game on base streak to begin 2015, a National League record.

The roar followed him to second, a station he knows well after 237 doubles for the Birds, 22nd all-time.

All those extra bases helped his .493 slugging in St. Louis, cementing him at 15 on a top 20 list including Albert Pujols, Rogers Hornsby, Johnny Mize and Stan Musial.

He rounded third and started for home, trotting toward his 615th Cardinal RBI. At 23rd on the franchise list, he’s just 18 RBIs behind number 19 Curt Flood and 37 shy of number 18 Red Schoendienst. Holliday has 2,793 less plate appearances than Flood and more than 3,000 less than Red.

He reached the dugout and the joined in the tears, returning to sight only enough to tip his hat for the curtain call. The cheers persisted, fueled by too much appreciation to die out just yet.

Holliday ranks 18th in offensive WAR and 11th in OPS+. He’s eighth for the Cardinals all time in wins added. The team is 635-497 since his extension and has made the postseason in every year but one (2016 TBD).

He deserved the moment, even if it was so good it made people wonder if there were more to be had.

“I went over to Mike and said, ‘Soooooo it’s NOT his last at bat?’” Wainwright said. “There’s not much of a better way to go out than that … I think those great Cardinal fans would have kept cheering for him all night long if the ump had let them.”

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