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A letter to Matt Holliday

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 9, 2009 - To: Matt Holliday, Cardinals Slugger and Left Fielder From: Cardinal Nation. Dear Matt,

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, and you should know that Mary Catherine Reidy -- who wears Cardinals earrings the size of ping-pong balls - has not given up hope.

Neither has John Combest, a self-described "homer" who always supports the home team.

Game Two of the National League Division Series is over. Done. An "L" in the record books, along with that forgettable Game One.

But Mike Heaney has tickets for Game Four on Sunday - the one that will follow the Cardinals must-win Saturday over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium.

While you, Matt, were telling the media about losing the last-out-that-could-have-been in the lights of Dodger Stadium, the Beacon was talking to Cardinals fans who have not given up hope. (Though, to be honest, they did use words like "stunned" and "worried" and "tough battle.")

The true believers of Cardinal Nation are rallying behind their beloved Redbirds, confident that they will do something that no team has done before: Come back and win a best-of-five division series after being down 2-0.

So, put it aside, Matt. Chin up. Deep breaths. You know the drill -- and all the cliches.

Tomorrow is another day, and this is Busch Stadium. Forget about those LA rally towels, the Dodgers will be seeing red now.

But until then, please do not Google your name and the words "dropped ball," "two outs" and "ninth inning." (10,900,000 search results in 0.27 seconds.)

If you Twitter, please, please, don't go there, either.

Here are a few words from the Cardinal faithful ...

'He Dropped the Ball'

"Heartbroken."

That was the only word Marvin Steele could muster, minutes after watching pitcher Adam Wainwright's masterfully pitched eight innings fall apart in the ninth -- ruined by Holliday's error and mistakes by reliever Ryan Franklin.

"They had this in the bag. It was their game," Steele said. "But they can recover. It's not totally out of the realm of possibilities."

Steele, 60, a construction consultant, watched the game at his home in Belleville, talking on the phone with his son Marvin Steele Jr., who works for Rep. William Lacy Clay in Washington.

"We were celebrating - and he dropped the ball," Steele said.

Steele, who says he has been a Cardinals fan since he was 16, was impressed by Wainwright in the wake of ace Chris Carpenter's weak performance in Game One.

"It may have broken our hearts, but it was a great baseball game," he said.

Steele plans to watch Saturday's game - and Sunday's, if the Cards make it that far -- with his son, who will be in town with his fiancee for a family event. Football is also on the schedule.

"This is as good as it gets," Steele said. "But we have to win Saturday."

Despite the odds, he sees hope in the Cardinals pitching lineup, starting with Joel Pineiro on Saturday.

"I think the Dodgers might get surprised," Steele said. "If Pineiro is on his game, we can easily win this game at home. Then [Cardinals manager] Tony La Russa implied that he's going to bring back Chris Carpenter, although he'll be on three days' rest. But I think Carpenter's got something to prove to himself. Then, Wainwright who pitched brilliantly is set up for Los Angeles. We still have a chance. We've got a chance ..."

'It Was a Tough One'

John Combest, an admitted die-hard fan, was taking the long view Thursday night after the nerve-racking finish.

"Well, it was a tough one, that's for sure," said Combest, 31, who works in public affairs at Monsanto. "But I think we're still well positioned. There will undoubtedly be a lot of blame put on Holliday, but it's a fluke play. And I'd say the same thing if it happened to Andre Ethier of the Dodgers. That's why it's not a one-game playoff."

Combest, who writes a daily political blog about Missouri politics, skipped a political fundraiser in Clayton, where the plan was to watch the Mizzou-Nebraska college football game.

"I was having none of that," Combest said. "I said, 'I'm going to be watching the Cardinals game. You guys do your political thing, but I'm going to be in front of the television pacing back and forth.' "

And pace, he did.

"We were just one out away," said Combest, who always roots for the home team.

No matter what.

"I'm always the one who says, 'This is going to be our year.' Or when Holliday drops a line drive I say, 'That's OK. Everybody makes mistakes.' It's sacrilege for me to ever say we don't have a great team," he said.

The optimistic Combest already has tickets for the next round, the National League Championship - and is still hoping to see the Cardinals take on the Phillies and slugger Ryan Howard, a St. Louisan.

He says the Cards have a good team this year - about a 3.5 on a 4.0 grade scale - and the playoffs won't be over until that last tough out.

"That's why you play a five-game series in the first round and a seven-game series in the next rounds -- because occasionally that 3.5 student beats the valedictorian," Combest said.

'I'm a Little Worried'

Mary Catherine Reidy didn't want to say exactly how she worded the message she texted to her kids after the game.

"I said, 'Cards lose' -- let's put it that way," she said.

Reidy, 52, is a nurse and life-long fan whose license plate reads: MSBSBL (Ms. Baseball).

"I'm a Cardinals fan no matter what's happening. I'm not a fair-weather fan, for sure," she said. "I'm not superstitious, and I'm not going to be negative, but I'm a little worried coming in here, being two down."

Reidy said it was a great game - until the ninth inning.

"I think Matt Holliday's going to take the fall for the whole thing, though I don't think Ryan Franklin had too much to offer," she said.

Reidy will watch Saturday's game at home with her husband, Joe, because she doesn't have playoff tickets. Perhaps she can wear her No. 50 Wainwright jersey that was a gift on her 50th birthday.

"I don't want it to end like this, so I hope we can come back," she said. "But it's going to be tough to climb that hill - three games."

'It's Going to Be Tough'

"Tonight's game was pretty brutal," said Mike Heaney, 29, an attorney who watched the game with friends at Nick's Pub in Manchester. "It was a better-played game than last night's, but the loss in the ninth inning really hurt."

On a scale of one to five, Heaney rated it "four stomach punches out of five."

Heaney, a lifelong fan, said he is still hoping for a win in Game Three on Saturday.

"It's going to be tough. I have tickets for Game Four, so I'm just hoping right now they'll win one game -- and we'll go from there," he said.

His advice for the team?

"They need some clutch hits," said Heaney, who may miss watching Saturday's game because he is attending a wedding.

"But who knows, maybe we'll sneak in a TV somewhere," he said.

'I'm Not Giving Up Yet'

Matt Huelskamp, 36, watched the game at his home in Highland with his 2-year-old son, Sam.

Fortunately, Sam, an Albert Pujols fan, went to bed before the ninth.

Huelskamp, a brand manager for KETC-Channel 9, said he had been nervous all night -- until Wainwright pitched out of a jam in the eighth. When Holliday dropped the ball, he feared for the worst.

"Everybody came unraveled then," he said. "The nerves. Gosh, I don't know how they play the game sometimes. I'm sitting there on the edge of my seat. That's what makes it fun, I guess."

Huelskamp is not giving up - though he knows it will be an uphill battle after watching the Dodgers beat Wainwright and Carpenter.

"Stranger things have happened in baseball," he said. "They've swept the Dodgers before, so they can win three in a row."

But first things first. Saturday is his daughter Ada's first birthday - and a Cardinals comeback would be the icing on the cake.

So, there you go, Matt Holliday. Win one for Ada's daddy.

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