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Red-hot Holliday propels Cardinals

2012-07-26T17:50:00Z 2012-08-05T02:34:14Z Red-hot Holliday propels CardinalsBY RICK HUMMEL stltoday.com
July 26, 2012 5:50 pm  • 

Matt Holliday stood out more than usual Thursday afternoon. Besides hitting the only ball out of Busch Stadium on a day when the dead ball era returned — 24 of the collective 26 hits were singles — the Cardinals' left fielder turned in the most aggressive baserunning play of the game in the fifth inning.

Allen Craig's one-out single to left scored Daniel Descalso giving Craig 50 runs batted in for 59 games, and cutting the Los Angeles Dodgers' lead to 4-3. Holliday, who had walked, tried to push the action by challenging left fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. to throw him out at third.

Holliday slid in safely as the ball glanced off the glove of third baseman Hanley Ramirez. When the ball drifted away, Craig went to second. With the double play not in order, David Freese, who had three more hits as he extended his hitting streak to nine games (16 for 28), blooped a single to right, scoring both Holliday and Craig and putting the Cardinals ahead to stay en route to a 7-4 win.

The Dodgers really had only one mild threat after the Cardinals' fifth inning and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he found that understandable.

"That is hard for an opposing team, to take the lead and watch it completely disappear," said Matheny. " It's hard to change that momentum."

The Cardinals, who had two winning streaks of three games each on their 6-1 home stand after competing a 1-5 road trip, managed to lose one game in the National League Central Division to the Cincinnati Reds, who have won seven straight.

But, although the wild-card race really hasn't started yet, the Cardinals find themselves only 1½ games behind the Atlanta Braves, who would have the second wild-card spot if the season ended today. And the Cardinals have caught the Braves before.

In the same home stand, the Cardinals scored 12 runs in one inning one day and had 18 hits a few days later.

"This is the kind of team I do believe we have," said Matheny, "and I think (the players) believe that, too. It would be nice to ride this for a few months."

Holliday's 50th career homer at new Busch Stadium was part of a two-hit day that raised his average to .319. Over his last 33 games, he is 52 for 124 (.419).

"He's been hitting them where they aren't," said Matheny. "He's been hitting them hard all season."

Freese compared Holliday's month-long-plus run to a performance when Holliday hit better than .400 most of spring training.

Holliday sniffs at that. "Spring training doesn't count," he said. "I feel good. I'm hitting the ball hard. Pretty often. But I don't compare times.

"I try to keep the game simple. I realize it's you (media) guys' job to analyze it a lot of different ways but I just try to compete."

Holliday's baserunning often gets overlooked but Matheny said he had implored all his players from the first day of spring training to be more aggressive on the bases.

"It stands out more, probably, when they're out," said Matheny. "But we especially focused on that first-to-third and how that all starts with your lead and your secondary lead and having it in your mind that you're going to make it.

"I was happy to see Matt do that. For the most part, he's got good baserunning instincts and we want them taking those chances."

Holliday said, "It's not that big a gamble. If he makes a perfect throw, I'm out. But with one out, you take that chance."

Beneficiary of a Cardinals season-high output of 18 hits, winning pitcher Jake Westbrook (9-8) became the 21st consecutive Cardinals starter to last six innings and Westbrook made at least seven for the third straight time.

The Cardinals staked Westbrook to two runs in the fourth largely with the ''hit-'em-where-they-ain't'' approach.

Craig doubled into the right-field corner and went to third as Freese dropped a single in front of center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier, both of whom pulled up short.

With second baseman Mark Ellis playing at double-play depth for Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals' rookie rolled one of his three hits just past the outstretched glove of Ellis, who had backtracked to his left. Tony Cruz then shot a run-scoring single past first baseman Juan Rivera, who was playing at the bag, looking for a possible bunt.

But Los Angeles pricked Westbrook for four runs in the fifth, with a couple of defensive misplays involved. The Dodgers had five straight baserunners, all on singles, in the inning.

But the Cardinals had seven consecutive men reach base in the home fifth.

In that inning, the Cardinals had three hits with men in scoring position and they were six for 13 in that category for the game.

"We're getting timely hitting," Freese. "I think we haven't used that term in a while."

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Baseball writers Derrick Goold and Rick Hummel cover the Cardinals for the Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com. They'll provide daily Cardinals updates here, from the start of spring training through the end of the season and beyond.

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