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Holliday proves a perfect fit with Cards

Holliday a perfect fit with Cards

DENVER -- When it first become known, even back last winter, that the Cardinals were interested in Matt Holliday, one word started coming up right away: fit. From just about every perspective, Holliday and the Cardinals seemed like a perfect fit.

Professionally, Holliday's approach to the game would fit. Personally, his Midwestern upbringing would fit. And as a hitter, his high-average, right-handed power bat would fit perfectly in the No. 4 spot in the St. Louis order. In retrospect, it always made too much sense not to happen.

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Cardinals at a glance
2009 record: 91-71
2008 record: 86-76
NL Central champs

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
McClellan: Hometown boy
Cards: Shaking off walk-off
Ludwick: Dream fulfilled
Hawksworth: On way up
Ryan: Playing it cool
Pujols: Ready for fun stuff
Wainwright: Proud, durable
Holliday: Kids' play
Pujols: Triple Crown?
La Russa: 14th postseason
Carpenter: Heart of staff
Pujols: Eschewing rest
Holliday: A perfect fit
Carpenter: Ready to go
La Russa: Getting proactive
Wainwright: Apt pupil
Pujols: His place in history?
Pujols: The evolution
Holliday: Offensive spark
La Russa: Controls fate
Pujols: MVP No. 3?
Wainwright: Mr. Consistent
La Russa: Winning cures all
Carpenter: A go Game 1
Holliday: Big impact
Wainwright: Cy in cards?

Now that the Cardinals have pulled the trigger, and they have Holliday, it's all been borne out. He is a perfect fit with this Cardinals team.

"It's been great," Holliday said. "The guys welcomed me in very nicely. We've played really well since I've come over. I think we've got a chance to do some special things. It's a good group of guys and we're having fun."

It was a memorable weekend for Holliday, for lots of reasons, positive and negative. He returned to Coors Field as a visiting player for the first time, and was greeted with a surprising number of boos considering his successful service with the Rockies. He got to celebrate the Cardinals' division title on Saturday night, signaling his second trip to the postseason. And then he got sick and missed Sunday's game.

So for better and worse, Holliday won't soon forget his late-September trip to Denver. And while he was here, he also did some reminiscing about the last time he uncorked the champagne. He was a member of the 2007 Rockies team that roared to the postseason and then to the National League pennant.

"Two years ago, it was such a late-season push, us overcoming a lot of odds," he recalled. "We [the Cardinals] are in a pretty good spot now. We've had a substantial lead for almost a month. We're continuing to try to play well and build up our momentum going into the playoffs. Where in '07, it was we had to win every game to get into the playoffs. I think it's different from that standpoint. But as far as team chemistry and guys really enjoying each other and playing hard and playing well for each other, I think it's similar."

He fit with that Colorado team. He fits with this St. Louis team.

The Cards haven't been surprised by any of what they've gotten in their new man. They were watching him closely for a long time. And manager Tony La Russa has a couple of good friends, including Mike Gallego and Walt Weiss, who worked with Holliday in Colorado.

So they didn't worry about his slow start in Oakland, after he was traded from Colorado over the winter. They weren't deterred from making an aggressive move to acquire the former batting champion.

"I watch the A's play quite a bit," La Russa said. "And there wasn't anything there when he didn't get hits a particular day that wasn't explainable. We knew enough about him. We wanted him all winter."

And they were right. He's fit perfectly, in performance and personality. He was the biggest acquisition in a series of moves that transformed the Cardinals from a contending club to a superior one, allowing them to run away with the division race.

"Before the trades, we were gritty, gutty, [with] great character," La Russa said. "We survived. We won games because we refused to [quit]. But you can't play six months like that unless the division can be won with eight or nine [games over .500]. I mean our tops, you've got to figure, was if we really got hot and kept everybody healthy, 10 or 12. We couldn't make a real good run. We're a different club now. I think we're a tough club to play against.

"Before, we were a pretty good club that was really gutsy. Now I think we're a good club that's got great guts."

Thanks in large part to how well Holliday has fit in. They're loving having him, and he's loving being part of it all.

"I think we all play for that," Holliday said. "As athletes, you want a chance to win. To get a chance to go into a pennant race, it was a great opportunity for me. To go over there and be part of a team that was already playing well, it was exciting."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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