- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | Matt Holliday wanted to join his new team quickly, so he hopped on a train with his wife and two sons and got to the ballpark in plenty of time.

Holliday was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals from the Oakland Athletics on Friday for a package of prospects. The three-time All-Star outfielder gives the Cardinals a big bat for their pennant drive and provides protection in the lineup for slugger Albert Pujols.

Holliday was in New York for Oakland’s series against the Yankees when he learned about the deal. To avoid getting stuck in traffic, he chose public transportation over a car ride down congested Interstate 95.

“Getting from New York to Philly on a Friday afternoon can be tough,” Holliday said. “I’m extremely excited to be back in the National League, to be back in a pennant race. This is a great team, a great organization.”

Holliday made it to Citizens Bank Park early enough for manager Tony La Russa to pencil him into the lineup in left field and bat him cleanup behind Pujols for Friday night’s game against the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

“It’s a heck of a move for our club,” La Russa said. “There are guys who are going to lose at-bats, but they’re excited because he improves our club. We’ll be tough to pitch to.”

Holliday’s presence will make opponents think twice about pitching around Pujols, who has been intentionally walked 34 times.

“You look at the lineup card and it’s exciting,” said outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who moves down to the No. 5 spot from cleanup. “You take a hitter like him and it’s instant offense.”

The NL Central-leading Cardinals had a 1 1/2-game lead on the Chicago Cubs and Houston entering Friday’s games. They already added utilityman Mark DeRosa from the Cleveland Indians late last month and then shortstop Julio Lugo in a Wednesday swap with the Boston Red Sox.

“Matt is an impact player who gives us an instant added threat in the middle of our lineup,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “These types of opportunities are rare. The price to complete this deal was steep, but our organization feels that it should greatly improve our chances to compete for a postseason berth.”

The A’s receive power-hitting third baseman Brett Wallace, a top offensive player in the St. Louis farm system. Outfielder Shane Peterson and right-hander Clayton Mortensen also went to Oakland.

Holliday could be an expensive short-term rental for St. Louis because he can become a free agent after the season. He’s earning $13.5 million in the final year of a contract he signed after helping lead the Colorado Rockies to the World Series in 2007.

“I’m pretty sure I’m excited to be a St. Louis Cardinal and pretty excited to hit,” Holliday said, ducking a question about testing the free-agent market.

Holliday struggled in his only season with the A’s, batting .286 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs. Oakland traded for Holliday during the winter, knowing he might only be with the club for half a season.

“We knew there were going to be a lot of options,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “We’re happy we traded for Matt. We had to be prepared for anything.”

Holliday, 29, had his best game for Oakland on Monday, hitting two home runs with a grand slam as the A’s rallied from 10 runs down to beat Minnesota 14-13. Many scouts attended recent games in Oakland to watch Holliday, who spent his first five major league seasons with the Rockies.

“I wouldn’t say it’s surprising,” said Oakland’s Mark Ellis, who learned about the trade when Holliday stopped by his hotel room Friday morning. “It’s disappointing. Maybe if we would have played better we would have hung onto him.”

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