Two Losses: How Matt Holliday has been clutch in 2013

Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

Both times Matt Holliday has come up big, the Cardinals have come just short.

Matt Holliday, who did just about everything he could to keep the St. Louis Cardinals in front of his former team on Thursday, is hitting .323/.423/.526 since the All-Star Break. That actually makes it three second-halves out of five where he's improved down the stretch as a Cardinal, but this isn't another post about how underappreciated he is, how dumb the Clutch Saga has been, etc.

It's just not necessary anymore; whether it's thanks to familiarity or having finally seen what Holliday-in-decline really looks like, it feels like Busch-Stadium-the-metonym has finally warmed to him.

It's something simpler than that. Matt Holliday's two biggest games this year by WPA, which seeks to measure nothing more or less than the change in a game's odds caused by a batter's plate appearances, have been losses. Second-half, gut-wrenching losses. We just watched the first one; the second-biggest came a little more than a month ago.

Saturday, Aug 10: CHC 6 @ STL 5 

Matt Holliday is a guy who looks like he should hit more home runs on a team that looks like it should hit more home runs, which means, among other things, that it's a good thing he's already won over some of the more stubborn skeptics.

By August 10's matinee against the Cubs, the worst of the home run drought was over—they'd hit eight already, after managing nine in July. Matt Holliday's season had begun to turn, too; his OPS was up to .835, good for fourth in the lineup. The team, though, was still in trouble: Since a convincing sweep of the Phillies they'd gone 4-12, and a day earlier they'd been shut out by somebody named Chris Rusin, which I feel like I would remember.

In comes Michael Wacha, making his first major league start since early June (no pressure) with his team four games out of first place (no pressure.) Sometimes an early solo shot stings a little; other times it hits with a big, dull thud. Welington Castillo pulling a not-so-bad 2-0 fastball from a potential rotation savior just over Matt Holliday's head in the second inning is the big, dull thud.

In the fourth Matt Holliday drove in the top of the order with the prototypical three-run homer. The prototypical Matt Holliday homer—it looked like a line drive off his bat until suddenly the camera pointed toward the outfield had to pull up to catch it in flight.

A fourth-inning home run isn't an especially dramatic play, but Holliday's swing pushed the win probability 28 percent in the Cardinals' favor. That sounds about right. An early three-run homer isn't enough of a margin to make you comfortable; it just provides for the possibility of feeling comfortable eventually.

It's a margin you watch nervously while the other team claws at it. A sacrifice fly in the fifth made it 3-2, and in the sixth the Cardinals were only able to turn back-to-back doubles into one run. Matt Holliday walked with one out and the second double on base, then got doubled up.

If there's one lesson Matt Holliday's already taught us it's how easily heroics can be swallowed by context. A lead-changing home run can come a little too early, for a starting pitcher who's not going to go quite deep enough into the game; an invincible set-up man (or closer) can fall apart where he'd usually make the lead stand, forcing your big game into the beginning of another narrative entirely. Trevor Rosenthal hadn't blown a save since April, and he hadn't walked two batters in nearly a year.

He walks Welington Castillo and Nate Schierholtz, and then he strikes out Starlin Castro and Cody Ransom, and then he allows back-to-back doubles to Darwin Barney and Dioner Navarro. That makes it 5-4. By the time Matt Holliday—batting second in the bottom of the ninth—comes up again, Michael Blazek's made it 6-4.

So Allen Craig pops out, and now Matt Holliday can't tie the game, not even when he takes Kevin Gregg into the right-field bullpen. His second home run of the game, an opposite-field shot in the middle of a save situation, affects the Cardinals' chances of victory only a little more than his walk had a couple of innings earlier.

We remember superstars for what looks, on TV and in hindsight, like the ability to bend games to their will. They have a great game and then it slides from great into implausible when—the original heroics having been squandered—they manage one more great thing. Matt Holliday is just this side of that. He's one at-bat short.

If you're angry about him already that's your reason to be angrier: He looks like a superstar until he isn't. His very best is not always good enough. But the people in Busch Stadium who don't appreciate Matt Holliday already, the mumblers of vague contract innuendo, are running out of time to figure out why they're so anxious to boo the best possible version of themselves.

I'd love to be Albert Pujols, but I'm not; 50 years from now nobody will tell anybody about the time they saw me do anything. Some days everything clicks, and I can do no wrong for hours at a time, and I scramble until the last second, and I still end up a little short, somewhere between Average Me and the movie version of me that inspires extras in felt hats to turn to each other and say, "There goes Dan Moore, the best there ever was in this blogging game."

I'm not Albert Pujols. I'm not Matt Holliday, either, but Matt Holliday I get.

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