"It would be hard to come up with a better script," Holliday said after Sunday's 10-4 win over the Pirates. "Nothing ever ends perfectly, but it felt good."
Unlike the last two days, the Cardinals did not have Holliday as an available pinch-hitter on Sunday. His thumb was too swollen to contribute with the bat. But as Matheny heard the home fans chanting Holliday's name in the bottom of the eighth inning, the skipper began brainstorming. He huddled with hitting coach John Mabry and bench coach David Bell, insistent they find a way for Holliday's final tip of the cap.
What played out next seemed perfect.
Holliday emerged from the dugout, alone, before the top of the ninth. He jogged out to left field amid a standing ovation and arrived there still as the only player on the field. His teammates were standing outside the dugout applauding, as were several players in Pittsburgh's dugout.
"It's just so special. You know he has meant a lot to this fan base," teammate Stephen Piscotty said. "It was just a lot of raw emotion from him and the fans. [I'm] honored to say I got to play with him."
After taking time to recognize the crowd, Holliday returned to the dugout, replaced in the field by Tommy Pham.
"I just really appreciate it," said Holliday, who has been with the Cardinals since July 2009. "I've given everything I had, and I've tried to play the game the right way. I love the organization, and I'm really proud of a lot of the things we were able to accomplish in my time here. It does feel good, for people to appreciate who I am."
As he gathered his belongings for the final time this year, Holliday reiterated his plans to play somewhere next season. The Cardinals have already informed him of their intention to decline his 2017 club option, which makes it unlikely he'll return. If that's the case, Holliday finishes his Cardinals career hitting .293/.380/.494 in 981 games.
"I don't think you could have written it any better," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Obviously from the home run to the base hit and today, as his teammates stood up there and recognized him, it was perfect. It's not his last chapter, but it was certainly a well-written one."
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.