Holliday makes presence felt quickly
Slugger gives Cards what they need -- offense from someone other than Pujols
PHILADELPHIA -- He woke up a little before noon in a New York hotel room, still a trusty employee of the Oakland A's. Little did Matt Holliday know that a mere 7½ hours later, he would find himself in Philadelphia, hitting cleanup for the St. Louis Cardinals.But funny stuff can happen to guys like him this time of year. And Friday, that funny stuff happened to Matt Holliday. He got traded Friday for the second time in eight months, this time from the A's to the Cardinals -- for a three-player package fronted by St. Louis' best hitting prospect, Brett Wallace. It was a hefty price to pay for what might be a two-month rental, admitted the GM who paid it, John Mozeliak. But it was a price that reflected more than just the fact that the Cardinals have been chasing this guy since last winter. It also reflected an important fact of modern baseball life:
“But the Cardinals apparently have other stuff they'd like to accomplish this year besides making intentional-walk history. And Holliday sure seems like a guy who can make that other stuff possible. Asked what impact Holliday might have on how Pujols is pitched, manager Tony La Russa made a point of saying he didn't want to show any disrespect to the men who have been hitting behind Pujols these first four months -- guys, he said, who really have been dealt "an unfair assignment." "But the opposition has a different feel for Holliday," La Russa said. "He's had almost six years of production in this league. So it's a different feel. It's a different decision." Of course, Holliday spewed out the first five years of that production while playing half his games at atmospheric Coors Field, where he hit .357, with a 1.068 OPS -- as opposed to .280, with an .803 OPS elsewhere. Then he headed off to Oakland this season, where he hit .286, with an .877 OPS -- which beat the heck out of, say, Wilson Delgado numbers, but weren't quite elite-slugger numbers, either. So La Russa was asked whether he thought Holliday's struggles in Oakland might cause him to have any less presence in that cleanup spot, behind Sir Albert, than he used to have. "My opinion, " La Russa replied, "is that just about everyone in this league -- pitchers, pitching coaches, managers -- are aware of Matt Holliday. And there isn't any perception that would be changed, especially since, in the last month or so, he's been more like the normal hitter that he is." Well, it's actually in the past 2½ months (since May 5) that Holliday has batted a respectable .310, with a .413 on-base percentage and a .905 OPS. But even that figure is misleading. In reality, his season has ridden a very strange roller coaster:
"He's the greatest player in the game. I've enjoyed watching him play. Now I get to play with him. And I'm excited about the opportunity.” -- Matt Holliday on new teammate Albert Pujols
- • Opening Day through May 4 -- .223, 2 HR, .621 OPS
• May 5 through June 6 -- .352, 6 HR, 1.058 OPS
• June 7 through July 10 -- .236, 0 HR, .646 OPS
• July 11 through Thursday -- .390, 3 HR, 1.178
Those twists and turns caused one veteran scout to say recently that he'd be wary of signing Holliday this winter -- because truly great hitters are great all the time, not every other month.But in fairness to Holliday, he was a man trying to make a whole bunch of major adjustments on the fly -- from Colorado to Northern California, from NL to AL, from Coors to McAfee Coliseum, from a team he had played for his whole career to a team that basically was subletting him until a drooling customer such as the Cardinals came along. When he was asked, however, to describe how difficult his time in Oakland was, especially the last week, when the rumors started flying, Holliday chose to recap his team's struggles, not his own. He did say, however, that over the past few weeks, he felt as if he "started swinging the bat pretty well." The past few days, he said, he knew those Cardinals rumors were flying -- even though "I wasn't exactly scouring the Internet, looking for every bit of information I could find." But he also told himself: "You never know what's going to happen. I talked to [A's GM] Billy [Beane], and he said he wasn't necessarily going to trade me [because] he wanted to get the equivalent of two first-round draft picks in order to trade me. So I hadn't really thought about it a whole lot because I figured it could go either way." Instead, however, it went this-a-way: A late-morning text message from Beane. Which led to a call to the GM that delivered the big news. Which was followed by a pursuit of the age-old question, "What's the best way to get from New York to Philly on a busy Friday afternoon?"
Which was accompanied by some frantic packing by the entire Holliday family (which had made the trip east to New York). Which then led them to an Amtrak train to be named later. And the next thing Matt Holliday knew, there he was, sitting in a Cardinals hitters' meeting in La Russa's office in Citizens Bank Park, contemplating the true meaning of life batting behind Albert Pujols. "He's the greatest player in the game," Holliday said of his new best amigo. "I've enjoyed watching him play. Now I get to play with him. And I'm excited about the opportunity." Well, history will forever record that, on his first night with Holliday hitting behind him, Pujols wasn't intentionally walked all night. Then again, history also will record that he batted only once all night with a runner on base. Which might have had a little something to do with it. Nevertheless, we'll get to spend the next couple of months measuring exactly how much Holliday can help Pujols get a few more strikes to hack at. But what we know now is that, on a wild and crazy Friday in the Eastern time zone, the Cardinals have told the world they're clearly going for it, right here, right now. And given that Friday was the first of 10 straight games against the Phillies, the Dodgers and the rampaging Astros, the Cardinals picked an excellent time to add this fellow, too. Or at least that was a theory a Cardinals beat writer tossed out there to La Russa. But the manager was having none of that. "There is no bad time to add him," La Russa said. Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
MORE MLB HEADLINES
- Red Sox officially unveil Sandoval, Ramirez
- Source: Lester, Giants will meet next week
- Red Sox: Could exceed tax to reel in Lester
- Reds hire Towers as special assistant to GM
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
HOLLIDAY TRADED TO CARDINALS
The Oakland A's traded left fielder Matt Holliday to the St. Louis Cardinals for three prospects.