Matt Holliday's misplay in left field in Thursday's 3-2 Game 2 loss to the Dodgers in the National League Division Series led nearly every highlight reel from that game. But it wasn't the only point at which the Cardinals stumbled, it wasn't the only time the Cardinals could have salted the game away, and it wasn't any kind of full reflection on Holliday the ballplayer.
As recently as two years ago, Holliday was a hero in that play-in game, and he had a big postseason as the Rockies rolled to their first World Series berth. Moreover, as recently as earlier in Game 2, it was Holliday who cranked a solo homer that put the Redbirds ahead of Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
"I hope that when Matt gets introduced and when he comes to the plate for the first time [on Saturday], our fans give him a long standing ovation," La Russa said on Friday. "And that's what we expect, is our fans are going to be there, and we will not let them down."
Holliday, who explained that he lost James Loney's ninth-inning line drive in the lights on Thursday, didn't speak to reporters during Friday's media availability session, but his teammates spoke for him.
"I'm sure he's fine," said fellow outfielder Ryan Ludwick. "I talked to him a little bit about it yesterday after the game. Those types of things happen. Sometimes the ball gets in the lights, sometimes it gets in the sun, and no matter what you do, no matter how you try to get it out, you can't get it out. It was an unfortunate scenario, but it all gets back to, 'That's baseball.' It's a game of inches. It's a game of close breaks, and we had a couple of close breaks that didn't go our way. But we're still fighting."
Holliday has been kept mostly quiet in the Division Series so far, going 2-for-8 and having some difficulty with runners in scoring position. But it looked briefly as though his solo homer on Thursday might have been enough for starter Adam Wainwright, who pitched brilliantly. Instead, he was the face of the defeat, fairly or not.
Still, had the Cardinals added on more runs when they had plenty of chances, it might not have come down to a single run. If closer Ryan Franklin had been able to shut the door after the error -- he still had two outs and a one-run lead after the play -- Holliday's mistake might have been an amusing aside rather than a heartbreaking gaffe.
Holliday was having little of that on Thursday, though. He put the loss squarely on his own head.
"We're not talking about any of that if I catch the ball," he said.
Wainwright, who would have been the winning pitcher if the Cardinals had closed the game out on Thursday, took an unusual tack to defend his teammate on Thursday. Wainwright pointed to the white towels waved by Dodgers fans as an explanation for why Holliday didn't catch the ball. That wasn't Holliday's explanation -- he said it had more to do with the lights.
La Russa reacted to Wainwright's suggestion with a mixture of amusement and admiration, but didn't take it all that seriously.
"I thought that was a case of a really high-quality, first-class teammate trying to cut his left fielder a break," La Russa said. "I mean, nothing is worse than basketball where they have white towels behind the basket. That wasn't the problem. ... I'll guarantee you if white towels were distracting, we'd have white towels, we'd have white flags and do everything we can to distract the opponent. They have them all over. That's not the reason."
La Russa looks forward to writing Holliday's name in the lineup once again on Saturday, and it's likely that the outfielder will get more chances to produce. The Dodgers have consistently walked Albert Pujols when there's any sort of opportunity for Pujols to do damage. That's bringing up Holliday in RBI situations.
So he may have a chance to start turning perceptions around very soon. At least, some perceptions. In some quarters, he's still viewed the same as he ever was.
"I've forgotten about it already," Franklin said.