Matt's back! Holliday returns with key homer

Matt's back! Holliday returns with key homer

NEW YORK -- The Yankees refused to pin a timetable on Matt Holliday's return as the veteran slugger spent most of August on the disabled list, recognizing the fragile nature of lower back injuries, but they knew that his presence could make a difference in the heat of a postseason chase.

It did on Saturday. Holliday returned to crush a three-run homer off Drew Pomeranz and help the Yankees notch a crucial 5-1 victory over the Red Sox, knocking Boston's lead in the American League East back down to 4 1/2 games and setting up a chance for the Bombers to take the series on Sunday evening.

"These are big games. I'm excited," Holliday said. "I want to be part of this. I want to be part of this team. I missed being around the guys. I'm going to try to enjoy it."

The sixth-inning blast came off Holliday's bat at 107.2 mph and traveled 433 feet, according to Statcast™, snapping a 75-at-bat homerless stretch for the 37-year-old that dated back to a July 15 shot off Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel at Fenway Park.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he never doubted Holliday would return, but having experienced lower back injuries during his own playing career, Girardi understood the emotional and physical toll that they would take on Holliday.

"We knew that we had to be patient because of the importance of him to our club and what he's done in the past, being in this situation before," Girardi said. "He's been in so many playoff runs that it was important to be patient."

Holliday was a presence in the heart of the lineup during the early part of the season, helping mentor young players like Aaron Judge while compiling a .284/.384/.538 slash line with 11 doubles, 13 homers and 44 RBIs through 57 games.

"He's one of the best hitters of our generation," Chase Headley said. "He was a big part of why we were so successful early on. He's a middle-of-the-order hitter that can hit the ball out of the ballpark at any time, and we saw that. He extends our lineup."

The first sign of trouble came when Holliday was scratched on June 17 at Oakland with what was initially believed to be an allergic reaction. Complaining of fatigue, Holliday appeared in just six more games before being placed on the DL with what was determined to be a viral infection.

Holliday was back in the lineup when the Yankees returned from the All-Star break but struggled, compiling a .136/.165/.198 slash line with just three extra-base hits in 20 games before going back on the DL with a left lumbar strain following an Aug. 4 game at Cleveland.

"I'm just trying to focus on the next month and what opportunities we have as a team, and I have to contribute," Holliday said. "I'm trying to stay present in the moment. Being here, being back around the guys and being on the field competing is really nice. I'm not trying to overthink things."

While the lost time will prevent his stats from being as gaudy as Holliday might have liked, he has higher hopes for the remainder of the season.

"There's been teams less talented than us that have won the World Series," Holliday said. "I look around and I see the potential. We currently sit in that [AL] Wild Card position. Hopefully we can make it easier on ourselves and get a better position, and we have a month to try to do that."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.