The alarm clock for Matt Holliday went off around 3 p.m. Saturday, during the sixth inning of the Yankees’ 5-1 win over the Red Sox, a victory made possible by the very loud collision of his bat with Drew Pomeranz’s first-pitch fastball.
As Holliday sees it, that three-run homer, a soaring blast deep into the leftfield bleachers, signaled a new dawn in his brief Yankees career. The first day of the rest of his baseball life. Everything that came before — the debilitating virus, the lumbar strain — no longer is part of the conversation.
Not that we didn’t try to bring up those subjects. There were numerous attempts during Saturday’s postgame chat to bridge the gap between the once-hurting Holliday and the sturdier, hulking DH who again proved himself capable of switching momentum with one swing. But Holliday would have none of it, deflecting any question that tried to point him backward.
Having already persevered through that difficult period — the two DL stints totaling 39 games on the shelf — Holliday was uninterested in returning. “I’m just trying to look ahead,” he said. “I don’t really want to get into it.”
Fair enough. Nobody with a conscience ever feels comfortable signing a one-year deal worth $13 million and then spending a significant portion on rehab, and Holliday is that kind of player.
Sure, he was a first-half wrecking ball, smacking 15 homers with 47 RBIs through 62 games before contracting what later was revealed to be the Epstein-Barr virus. But Holliday was not the same imposing figure upon his return from that first trip to the disabled list, and after a shaky three weeks — .136 average, one homer and four RBIs in 20 games — he went right back to the DL on Aug. 6, this time with the lumbar strain.
At that point, it wasn’t unreasonable to think Holliday’s impact days with the Yankees might be finished. Over a decent sample size, the 37-year-old had been rendered ineffective by two different maladies, and the Yankees had to wonder if his season would be revived in time to help them down the stretch.
“We felt like he could get back,” Joe Girardi said. “We just weren’t sure when. It was important to be patient.”
That wasn’t so easy. As Holliday climbed the organizational ladder from Class A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre during his rehab assignment, the Yankees suffered through their worst power outage of the season. Holliday was gone for most of August, and during that month, the Yankees were reduced to being ordinary in the American League, plunging to 11th in slugging percentage (.415), 10th in homers (36) and seventh in runs scored (132).
With Holliday missing, so was his 25-year-old protege, Aaron Judge, who seemed to forget how to hit once his mentor vanished. The Yankees don’t think that was a coincidence, and Judge himself has credited Holliday for helping to mold him into an All-Star during the season’s first half. But Holliday wasn’t recruited by Cashman to merely be a teacher for his Baby Bombers, and he won’t be satisfied with a mentoring role.
Holliday shares the same singular focus as everyone else in the Yankees’ clubhouse: getting into the playoffs. He’d like a shot at a World Series ring, which has eluded him in his 14-year career. Those odds improve considerably with a healthy Holliday in the lineup, and he blew up Pomeranz from the seven-hole Saturday, positioned between Chase Headley and Greg Bird.
Holliday had never hit lower than sixth all season, splitting the majority of his starts between third and cleanup. He might earn his way back up the order again, and the way the Yankees have been scuffling at the plate, it won’t take much to convince Girardi. After everything the manager has tried — including benching Judge for two days last week — Holliday might be the Yankees’ best chance at recharging this previously fearsome lineup and recalibrating their course toward the playoffs.
“I would like to win a championship and I think we have a talented enough team to do something like that,” Holliday said. “There have been teams less talented than this that won a World Series. Now we have a month to try to do that.”
That’s what has Holliday’s full attention. He can’t change the past. For him, the only time that matter is now.
Games on DL
Record with Holliday
Record w/o Holliday
His season numbers
.xxx BA, XX HRs, XX RBIs