Afterward Matt Holliday spoke like a guy unsure of how much he had left to give to his club, to this game. Someone deploying tunnel vision.
“I’m just focused on the next month and what we can accomplish as a team,” the Yankees’ oldest player said late Saturday afternoon. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Could this be the final round for the 37-year-old, given the adversity he has experienced these last few months? He isn’t going anywhere near there. For now, he hopes to take the Yankees somewhere better.
The forgotten man made a great reintroduction to his teammates, crushing one of the biggest hits of the season. His tie-breaking, three-run, sixth-inning homer led the Yankees to a 5-1 victory over the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium and closed their AL East deficit to 4 ¹/₂ games.
“I would like to win a championship, and I think we have a talented enough team to do something like that,” Holliday said. “I want to do everything I can to contribute in any way I can, and that’s how I’m looking at it.”
“We’ve missed that from him,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He was such a great run producer in the first half, and we’ve missed him in the second half.”
Signed last winter to serve as the team’s designated hitter, Holliday gave the Yankees two-plus months of excellent offense — on June 11, he raised his OPS to .922. After Saturday’s meaningful blast, he owns a .755 OPS. The only way to positively spin that plummet is to point out the illness (Epstein-Barr virus) and injury (left lumbar strain) that at least partly caused his massive production drop and also kept him out of action for a combined 39 games. Saturday marked his first appearance since Aug. 4.
It was fair to wonder what the Yankees could expect from Holliday even after they activated him Friday, in accordance with the major-league roster’s expansion to 40.
“We felt that he could get back because he’s dealt with these types of things before,” Girardi said. “We weren’t sure when. But we knew that we had to be patient because of the importance of him to our club and what he has done in the past and being in this situation before, because he’s been in so many playoff runs, that it was important to be patient.”
“You know, I’m just trying to look ahead, really,” Holliday said when asked to discuss his health. “Really not trying to overthink things at this point.”
OK, we’re good here at overthinking, so we’ve got Holliday covered: Aaron Hicks left Saturday’s game with tightness in his left oblique, which means he could be out for a while. Aaron Judge, hitting cleanup, went 0-for-4 and continues to look like a shadow of first-half Judge. The Yankees’ offense has been inconsistent. A Holliday uptick over these final 27 games could carry a huge impact.
His shot Saturday off Drew Pomeranz traveled an estimated 443 feet, loosened up a 1-1 tie and allowed the Yankees and winning pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to wash away the disappointment of Friday night’s loss. A win Sunday, in their season series finale against the Sawx, would draw the Yankees within 3 ½ games.
“Tomorrow’s a big game,” Girardi said.
Holliday knows big games. He has a ring from the title-winning 2011 Cardinals. Eight of his 17 homers this season have given the Yankees the lead, according to statistician Katie Sharp, and his previous homer, July 15 at Fenway Park, tied the contest in the ninth inning against Boston closer Craig Kimbrel and set in motion a 16-inning victory.
“We’re in first place in the wild card,” Holliday said. “Once you get in, with the talent that we have, if you look at our roster, we have plenty of talent here. There [have] been teams less talented than this one [to] win World Series.”
If he can will another two months of talent out of his beat-up body, the Yankees have a better chance to honor Holliday’s words. Saturday marked a highly encouraging welcome back.