Holliday puts Pujols, Cardinals in strong spot

BY foxsports • September 23, 2009

Albert Pujols is human, as the St. Louis Cardinals realized in July.

After lugging the club on his back for more than three months, Pujols began to buckle.

Concerned manager Tony La Russa gave Pujols a rare day off July 23 at Washington. The break came on a trip during which the Cardinals had been swept by Houston in a three-game series and had their lead in the National League Central cut to 1½ games.

"We try not to ask anybody to do something that is unfair," La Russa said. "The only guy we routinely do that with is Albert, and he carried us in the first half. I've never seen anybody do what he did."

Even Pujols needs help, and none was on the roster. A day later, it all changed for the better for Pujols and the Cardinals.

On the morning of July 24, St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak made the move that turned the Cardinals into runaway winners in the Central and changed the balance of power in the NL.

Mozeliak tabled the organizational direction of waiting on minor-league players to develop and went with the win-now philosophy, sending three minor-leaguers to Oakland for outfielder Matt Holliday.

A third World Series appearance in this decade went from a far-fetched thought to real possibility.

St. Louis went into Wednesday's game against Houston at 37-17 since obtaining Holliday for the best record in the majors during that span.

Less than thrilled by the dreary rebuilding situation in Oakland, Holliday was revitalized with the move to a contender. He stepped into the troublesome cleanup spot and was hitting .358 with 13 homers, 50 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 204 at-bats with the Cardinals.

His value on the approaching free-agent market rises with every game.

"It's been a lot of fun," Holliday said. "I've enjoyed getting to know a lot of these guys. I've found a lot of them with similar intensity for the game that I have.

"Everybody gets here early, and guys work really hard. It's been a lot of fun to play important games for a team that's got a chance to do something special."