ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals put Matt Holliday through another test on Saturday, pushing him to start consecutive games for the first time since he aggravated a quad injury in late July. Not only did he respond without a health concern, he offered another glimpse of how his presence alone can change an offense.
With RBI doubles in the first and second innings, Holliday helped the Cardinals race out to a five-run lead that led to a 5-1 victory over the Brewers. The win shaved another game off the team's magic number (now five) and left Holliday encouraged with his status.
Holliday is, in many ways, fighting the calendar as he pushes toward regaining uninhibited mobility and timing at the plate. The team has only seven regular-season games remaining.
"It felt good," Holliday said after his 2-for-4 night. "I hit some balls hard and had some good at-bats. That's the goal, really. Try to do things that help our offense and score runs."
"Even his last out was hit hard," manager Mike Matheny added. "Just a real nice stroke with the ball jumping off his bat. That's the guy we want him to be."
The start was Holliday's third since coming off the disabled list, and the Cardinals, perhaps not entirely by coincidence, have scored 18 runs in those three games.
"Him standing in the box, alone, brings something to our lineup, whether he gets a hit or not," leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter said. "It just kind of changes the way other teams game plan for us. Having him in there is huge, and it looks like he's swinging the bat well, as we saw tonight. If he can keep that going, it's going to be a big added push for us."
Holliday has a trio of run-scoring doubles despite not yet playing a full game. After going six innings in his first two starts, he stayed in the field for seven on Saturday.
He also had the test of running from home to second (twice), then scoring once from second on a single.
"I thought he was running well today," Matheny said. "I thought it was a good final OK and a security to him that everything is good to go."
Holliday remains on a modified rehab program that is methodically building him back to full strength. It's all mapped out so that by the time the postseason arrives, the Cardinals will have their most proven bat available and ready.
"You see how we come out now," Kolten Wong said. "It's a little more upbeat. You know you have your three-hole hitter back, your captain. We have guys who have filled the roles, but it's hard to replace a Matt Holliday."