Matt Holliday’s Farewell Weekend
On September 30, the St. Louis Cardinals unexpectedly activated Matt Holliday from the disabled list after he had been out since August 11 with a broken thumb. Holliday, who had surgery in hopes of being able to play again in 2016, simply hadn’t been able to recover the way he wanted to, and as a result, he hadn’t been able to participate in any meaningful games down the stretch for the Cardinals, who had been considered serious contenders for a Wild Card berth before a disastrous four-game series split with the Cincinnati Reds earlier in the week put them in a hole.
It was announced on that Friday that the team wouldn’t be picking up Holliday’s $17 million option for 2017, seemingly meaning that his eight-year stint with the Cardinals would be coming to an end. In lieu of a teary meeting with the media, Holliday released a statement saying that “It has been an honor to play in front of such great fans and for such an historic organization. I can honestly say it has been a dream come true.” Since he was still injured, it didn’t look as if Holliday would get anything more than a possible ceremonial appearance–the St. Louis Post Dispatch‘s Derrick Goold reported that he would “not appear in a game or at the plate unless it (was clear that there was) ‘nothing on the line.'”
Holliday emerged as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning of a Friday night game that the Cardinals were winning 5-0 over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He walked to the plate and received a standing ovation, and after taking a first pitch strike and fouling off the second pitch from lefty Zach Phillips, Holliday stepped into Phillips’ third pitch slider and sent it over the right field wall and into the Cardinals’ bullpen for a story book home run. Amazingly, it was the first pinch-hit home run of Holliday’s career. Photos would later reveal that Holliday literally had tears in his eyes during the at-bat and as he rounded the bases.
Plenty of managers probably would have seen that moment as impossible to top and decided to sit Holliday for the rest of the season. Mike Matheny apparently saw that homer as proof that Holliday could be a valuable bench piece for the remainder of the season, and he sent him up as a pinch hitter with one out and runners on first and third in the sixth inning of a game that the Cardinals were losing 3-2.
The incredible series finale of Holliday’s Cardinals career continued, as he took two balls to start the at-bat, swung through a 95 MPH fastball, and then drove another 95-MPH four-seamer to right field for an RBI single. That hit put the Cardinals within one run, and after a Matt Carpenter sac fly in the next at-bat and an eighth-inning Jedd Gyorko home run, the Cardinals ended up winning 4-3 and extending their postseason livelihood to the last day of the season.
It quickly became evident that the Cardinals wouldn’t be able to pull off the near-impossible and earn a Wild Card berth, though, as the San Francisco Giants went up 5-0 over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first two innings of their Sunday season finale, putting them in position to earn the NL Wild Card spot. With the Cardinals winning 10-4 in the ninth, Matheny recognized one more opportunity to honor Holliday, sending his the 36-year-old out to his longtime position of left field so that he could receive one more standing ovation. After that round of applause, he was promptly replaced by Tommy Pham, officially putting a cap on his season.
Holliday’s anticipated departure became a certainty at the Winter Meetings when he signed a one-year contract with the New York Yankees. So while he won’t end his career in a Cardinals uniform, Holliday had perhaps the greatest farewell weekend that any player could possibly dream of.