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With one swing, Holliday brings end to slump

With one swing, Holliday brings end to slump

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With one swing, Holliday brings end to slump

LOS ANGELES -- Through the first three games of the National League Championship Series, Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday had gone up to home plate 12 times and returned empty-handed each time. In the first inning of Game 4 on Tuesday night, he popped out to make it 0-for-13.

NLDS

Then with one swing of the bat in the third, Holliday made a Ricky Nolasco pitch disappear into the night for a two-run homer that ended his slump and helped lead St. Louis to a 4-2 win and a commanding 3-1 lead over the Dodgers in the best-of-seven NLCS. The Cards can clinch a trip to the World Series with a win in Game 5 on Wednesday (3 p.m. CT on TBS).

"That was a big swing," second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "It's one of those ones where as soon as it hits the barrel, everyone in the stadium knows it's gone. It ended up being a big inning for us, and really [it was] the difference in the game."

The pitch that Holliday hit was a first-pitch 92-mph fastball, and while the official estimated distance was 426 feet, the ball sure seemed to travel farther than that.

"It was one pitch, middle in, and I got the barrel to it," Holliday said. "He had pitched me in the at-bat before, and I popped up. So I had an idea that he might try to come in, and I wanted to try to get the bat head a little bit further out front, and I was able to do that."

Despite the homer, Nolasco thought it was a quality pitch.

"I thought my stuff was good," Nolasco said. "No complaints. The difference in the game was the Holliday homer. It was a good pitch. He did a good job of adjusting and pulling his hands through. He made the adjustment. I've been getting him out there for quite a bit of time before."

While the numbers might suggest otherwise, Holliday actually did not consider himself to be in a slump before that home run.

"If you're constantly, as a hitter, just looking at the results, it's frustrating," Holliday said. "It's a terribly frustrating skill. The way I've looked at it, I've actually had good at-bats. I feel good. My swing feels good. I've hit some line drives right at people. I've hit some hard balls that were just outs. And I feel like I've swung at pitches that I want to swing at."

Holliday finished the regular season on a tear. In September, he hit .378 with four home runs and 23 RBIs. Holliday led all qualifying hitters with a 1.083 OPS and a .485 on-base percentage for the month. Over his last 28 regular-season at-bats, Holliday collected 16 hits.

"Every time I looked up there, it seemed like his average kept rising," Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha said.

The results, though, were not there for Holliday or St. Louis' offense as a whole through the first three games of the NLCS. The Cards led the NL in runs scored during the regular season, and if Holliday gets hot, it sets up the rest of the lineup.

"It changes the way they pitch to him," infielder Pete Kozma said. "They've got to be more careful to him, and they're going to have to pitch to Carlos [Beltran] or whoever's batting behind him."

Wacha is aware of how it becomes more difficult when a hitter like Holliday is rolling.

"He's been the heart of order, so whenever he gets hot, look out for this team, because we can get pretty dangerous," Wacha said. "We've got a great lineup, so if he gets hot, look out."

It was the 10th postseason home run in Holliday's career, and he added a single in the seventh inning.

"We're just fired up for him," third baseman David Freese said. "Obviously it's good for the team, but a guy like Matt that cares so much about being the No. 3-hole hitter and helping his team win, he understands the pressure he puts on himself to come through. You look over the years, that's all that guy has done, when it comes down to it. He's a great player and a great teammate."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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