Matt Holliday is a strapping 6-foot-4, 250-pound All-Star who looks like he could win a world’s strongest man competition. Shane Robinson is a 5-9, 165-pound reserve whose frame is so slight it seems to struggle to hold up his jersey.
Side by side, they look like an NFL linebacker and a placekicker, but both did the heavy lifting in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 4-2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday night, hitting home runs that reflect their physical stature.
Holliday, hitless in 13 NLCS at-bats, crushed a two-run shot against Ricky Nolasco in a three-run third inning that traveled an estimated 426 feet and appeared to clear the bullpen in left field. Asked whether he saw the ball land, third baseman David Freese said, “No, but is that truck OK?”
Robinson, who has five home runs in two-plus seasons and was hitless in 12 playoff games, hit a pinch-hit solo shot against J.P. Howell that bounced off the top of the left-field wall and over in the seventh inning, giving the Cardinals a key insurance run that pushed them closer to a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.
“I know I have pop underneath the tank,” Robinson said, when asked if he was surprised his ball went out. “I wasn’t necessarily trying to do that, but I put a good swing on a changeup away and it carried. Baseball-wise, it’s one of my top moments. I helped the team win an NLCS game. Couldn’t draw it up any better.”
The Cardinals can probably close out the Dodgers and win the World Series without such contributions from Robinson, but to win another title, they’re going to need more pop from Holliday, their No. 3 hitter.
Holliday hit a big home run in Game 4 of a division series against Pittsburgh, but had done virtually nothing since until Tuesday. The Cardinals seemed to follow suit, hitting .134 with a .190 on-base percentage and .175 slugging percentage in the first three games against the Dodgers.
“The funny thing about this time of year is you could be hitless and then get the biggest hit of the series,” said Freese, the 2011 World Series and NLCS most valuable player. “That’s just how it works. You have to keep battling. Matt’s hit was huge. That’s two series in a row he’s helped us out with a big home run.”
Holliday said he got a pitch “middle-in and got the barrel to it.” He popped up a similar pitch in the first inning, “so I had an idea he might try to come in again, and I wanted to try to get the bat head a little bit farther out front.”
That, he did, sending a towering drive that seemed to travel as high as it did far.
“Yeah, I got it good,” Holliday said. “Have I hit farther ones? Maybe, but not in that kind of situation.”
Freese wasn’t surprised. He has been training with Holliday the last few off-seasons and marvels at the left fielder’s work ethic.
“I can’t put a number on what he throws up [in the weight room], but there’s a reason he’s that strong,” Freese said. “He takes pride in preparing for the season and maintaining it during the season. He’s a big, strong guy with a once-in-a-generation swing.”
There was no doubt Holliday’s ball was gone the moment it left the bat. Robinson’s home run, though, needed a little help.
“We all started screaming in the dugout,” Freese said. “We tried to blow it out.”
It made it, barely, giving the Cardinals bullpen, which shut down the Dodgers over the final 3 2/3 innings, a little breathing room.
“For Shane being a little guy, he’s got pretty good power,” Holliday said. “He’s got good thump. It was a huge lift and maybe somewhat surprising, but having a chance to watch him play, he’s got that potential in his bat.”