Matt Holliday’s bad back scratches him from NLCS Game 6

David Brown
Big League Stew

SAN FRANCISCO — In June, St. Louis Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday missed two games because of back spasms. With his back flaring up again Sunday night, Holliday has been reduced to a reserve role, if that, for Game 6 of the NLCS. The stakes are higher this time as the Cards, who lead the series 3-2, try to close out the San Francisco Giants for the second straight game.

Matt Carpenter, who came off the bench in Game 3 to hit a go-ahead home run after Carlos Beltran went down with a leg injury, takes Holliday's place in the lineup and will play first base. Cards manager Mike Matheny has moved Allen Craig to left field and the cleanup spot, which usually is Holliday's. Carlos Beltran, usually No. 2 in the order, is hitting third.

[Related: Barry Zito enjoyed Giant resurrection in Game 5 of the NLCS]

Holliday, who is batting .222 with a home run, a double, seven RBIs and 10 strikeouts in 45 postseason at-bats, also has been dealing with a family crisis. His mother, Kathy Holliday, underwent surgery for colon cancer in St. Louis on Thursday, hours before Game 4. Holliday told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that a lot has been on his mind since his mom was diagnosed during the final segment of the NLDS against Washington:

"It's been hard. This week's been hard," Holliday said. "It's part of life, part of being a big boy. You've got to deal with what happens in your life. I wish it wasn't. But it's part of it. She's doing good and we've had great support."

Aware of Holliday's personal situation, the Cardinals clubhouse said little publicly out of respect. It wasn't until the clubhouse thinned almost an hour after Thursday's win that the left fielder addressed it at any length.

"He's a brother to us," offered third baseman David Freese. "We're all here for him. He knows that."

That's simply brutal for Holliday, who has seemed distracted in some moments during the series.

The Cardinals usually seem to make do, even without a major cog like Holliday, who batted .295/.379/.497 with 27 homers (and a career-high 132 strikeouts) in 157 games in the regular season. But they're reaching a critical point against the Giants, who have home-field advantage for (up to) the next two games. San Francisco also is 4-0 this postseason when facing elimination.

Holliday also felt back spasms in September, but but didn't miss any time. He said then that his pains came on a different side. The Cardinals have yet to specify which part of Holliday's back is bothering him. We'll see if he is up to pinch hitting later on.

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