ST. LOUIS -- Having informed Matt Holliday earlier this week that the organization is unlikely to exercise his $17 million option for 2017, general manager John Mozeliak announced that the Cardinals would activate Holliday from the disabled list on Friday in order to give the veteran outfielder an opportunity to salute the fans with one final appearance.
How they would script a sendoff amid a Wild Card race was unknown, but when manager Mike Matheny found the right moment, Holliday penned a storybook ending. A visibly emotional Holliday stepped to the plate amid a rousing ovation, and on reliever Zach Phillips' third pitch, blasted his 20th homer, an opposite-field shot into the Cardinals' bullpen for the first pinch homer of his career. It supplied another run in an eventual 7-0 win over the Pirates, but it was also a fitting cap to Holliday's Cardinals career if that, indeed, marked the end.
"Still have chills," manager Mike Matheny said afterward. "These guys understand what an important role he plays in this organization and what a great job he's done for each of them individually. That's how it should be. Then the fans took over from there and all the way through. I know it meant a great deal to him and probably more than what words can describe."
After rounding the bases, Holliday was met at the plate by close friend Matt Carpenter, who gave him a hug. Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, who, along with Holliday and Carpenter, make up the team's leadership core, emerged from the dugout to greet Holliday with an emotional embrace.
"Yeah, there's something magical about that," Wainwright said. "You can't make that stuff up. That homer right there, everybody in the dugout was saying, 'Man, it would be so cool if he hits a homer right here.' And he did it on an 0-2 pitch."
After running through the team's home run receiving line and getting Carlos Martinez's customary splash of water in his face, Holliday acknowledged the fans once more with a tip of the helmet.
"It's hard to find the right words, I guess," Brandon Moss said of the moment. "It moves you a little bit because it's almost like he deserved that. You know what I mean? It isn't just, 'I hope he hits a home run here.' He deserves it. I just couldn't be happier for him."
"To see that kind of reception here in this baseball town, to see those numbers posted on the scoreboard -- they're real; he's earned them -- and then to go up there and hit a ball out to right-center field, I've seen him do it before," added Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "It's fantastic. It's another one of those stories you can't make up beforehand."
Holliday has been with the organization since 2009, when he was acquired in a Trade Deadline deal with the A's. He went on to sign a seven-year extension that offseason worth $120 million. It included the '17 club option, as well as the $1 million buyout the Cardinals will pay instead.
After averaging 147 games over the first five years of that deal, Holliday has had his last two seasons interrupted by injury. This one came to a halt on Aug. 11, when a pitch from the Cubs' Mike Montgomery fractured his right thumb. Holliday underwent surgery in hopes of making a late-season return, but the healing has been slow.
When it became evident that Holliday would not be healthy enough to make any substantial contributions down the stretch, he reached out to Mozeliak to see what decision the organization had made regarding his future in St. Louis.
"To honor my relationship with Matt, I thought it was better to be candid with him rather than just say, 'We'll decide that when the offseason comes,'" Mozeliak said. "In his case, I feel he's earned the type of respect and had the type of career here that he had that right [to know]."
Mozeliak followed that up by offering Holliday the opportunity to come off the disabled list in advance of this final regular-season series so he could make an appearance in front of the home fans.
"I am proud of what we have accomplished on and off the field during the past seven years," Holliday wrote in a statement. "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. While I'm disappointed this could be it here in St. Louis, I understand that it might be time to move on."
Though his production waned these last two years, Holliday gave the Cardinals an excellent return after signing the biggest contract in franchise history. He posted six 20-homer seasons, four 90-RBI seasons and slashed .292/.379/.493 with an .872 OPS in 980 games.
Over his tenure, Holliday produced a cumulative WAR of 24.1. According to Fangraphs, which created a tool to convert WAR to dollars in order to estimate the value of a player, Holliday has been worth $168.6 million since 2010.
"I feel grateful," Mozeliak said of Holliday's production over the life of the contract. "As I mentioned, I have always admired him as a player, even before we traded for him. I thought he was just one of those gritty, hard-working individuals. But getting to know him, getting to see how he is as a person, you just have the utmost respect for him."
In addition to the on-field impact Holliday made over the past eight seasons, he was among the franchise's most active in the community. He made regular visits to local children's hospitals and helped spearhead the Homers for Health program, which has raised more than $1 million since 2012 to benefit kids at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.
Holliday did not speak with the media on Friday, relaying through a team spokesperson that he was too emotional to take questions. Holliday's statement did not indicate whether he intends to play next season. He has logged 13 years in the Majors and will turn 37 in January.
"I think he's a guy who is a thinker, and I know he's going to lean on his faith and his family to make a decision that he believes is going to be best for their futures," Matheny said. "I haven't point-blank asked him, but I can tell by his desire to possibly make something work here [that] there is a desire still to play."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.