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10/08/09 11:08 PM ET

Holliday takes place in long line of 'goats'

Cardinals star joins list of players who made costly miscues

LOS ANGELES -- John Smoltz was standing off to the side as Matt Holliday was facing the music in the Cardinals' hushed clubhouse at Dodger Stadium on Thursday.

This was a moment Smoltz had seen before.

"There's so many things that are unfair about baseball and about sports, it's unfortunate," the veteran Cardinals pitcher said. "Playoffs brings about all kinds of bounces and plays. It would be worse if you were going home. But we still have a chance to redeem ourselves."

Smoltz's point was that the Cardinals are playing in a Division Series, not a World Series, and while they face an uphill battle due to Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Dodgers, the Cardinals -- needing to win three straight to overcome an 0-2 deficit -- will be playing what they hope will be their next two games in St. Louis.

But as long as there is autumn drama in Major League Baseball, there always will be heroes and goats. Smoltz saw it happen in Game 7 of the classic 1991 World Series between Atlanta and Minnesota, the night he was dueling Jack Morris and the night Lonnie Smith made an infamous baserunning blunder that cost the Braves a key run.

There are infamous examples on both sides of it, and Holliday, the hero who scored the run in the tiebreaker game that put Colorado into the 2007 playoffs, now wears the goat horns after being unable to catch the ball that would have evened the National League Division Series at a game apiece.

The batter, James Loney, ended up being a hero of sorts on the other side. He took advantage, hustling out of the box despite hitting what appeared would be the final out of the game and made it all the way to second base as Holliday stumbed and crawled to retrieve the ball, which had caromed away in front of him.

Juan Pierre, pinch-running for Loney, scored the tying run on a base hit by Ronnie Belliard. The Dodgers eventually won the game on a bases-loaded hit by Mark Loretta.

Holliday, however unfortunate to have missed the ball due to glare or the white hankies being waved by the fans at Dodger Stadium, is on both sides now. He joins a fraternity that includes the likes of Smith, Bill Buckner, Mickey Owen, Fred Merkle, Willie Davis, Justin Verlander, Fred Snodgrass, Herb Washington and Babe Ruth.

Yes, even The Bambino was a goat once. You have to have goats if you have heroes. The decisive Game 7 of the 1926 World Series ended with Ruth trying unsuccessfully to steal second, leaving the capable Bob Meusel in the batter's box unable to swing away with the score 3-2, St. Louis.

People make mistakes. Yet Holliday might be able to take solace in the fact that some of those blunders were the decisive, defining and final moments of big World Series and playoff games. His was not -- or at least right now it isn't. How the series plays out will determine Holliday's place among the unfortunate who have gone before him.

"It's tough to swallow," Holliday said. "Obviously, I feel terrible. But I just missed the ball. It hit my stomach. I think I can catch a ball hit right at me."

Probably the most famous goat blunder in history occurred in a game that had eventual postseason implications, the famed "Merkle's Boner."

The New York Giants and the Cubs were engaged in a terrific pennant race down the stretch in 1908. On Sept. 23, in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 1-1 game against the Cubs, Merkle was standing on first base for the Giants and Moose McCormick was on third with two outs. Al Bridwell then singled, and McCormick crossed home plate, with the go-ahead run.

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Fans rushed the field to celebrate, and Merkle started celebrating right with them. Thinking the game was over, he ran to the Giants' clubhouse out in center field without touching second base. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers saw it, and after retrieving the ball, he touched second and appealed to umpire Hank O'Day, who called Merkle out.

Thus, the run was negated. The game was declared a tie, and Chicago went on to win the makeup game at the end of the season, and they later won the World Series title. It would be remembered for two things: the most recent world championship for the Cubs, and the definition of a goat.

In postseason play, there have been many memorable ones. Mookie Wilson's dribbler to first base for the Mets in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against Boston comes to mind, as it went through Buckner's legs and into the outfield to allow the Mets to advance to Game 7. Boston would lose, and a generation would go on to see it as an example of the Curse of the Bambino -- until the Red Sox overcame it five years ago with a World Series title.

Owen was a four-time All-Star for the Dodgers in the 1940s, but he earned a place in baseball lore for a costly passed ball that he was charged with during the '41 World Series. The Yankees had a 2-1 lead in the series, the Dodgers had a 4-3 lead in the game, and with two out in the top of the ninth, the count was full on Tommy Henrich of the Yankees. Henrich swung and missed at strike three, which would have been the final out of the game, but the ball got away from Owen and Henrich made it safely to first base. The Yankees rallied and won, and instead of the series being evened, the Bombers would go on to the title.

Davis was another All-Star who was in the goat club of autumn. The Dodgers outfielder twice led the NL in putouts, but also twice led it in errors. In Game 2 of the 1966 World Series, Davis committed a Series-record three errors on two successive plays in the fifth inning. That was the final game of Sandy Koufax's Hall of Fame pitching career. The first one was by losing a fly ball in the sun -- a reminder that losing a ball in the lights, as Holliday said he did, does not remove one from goat status. The others came by dropping the next fly ball and overthrowing third.

How much did it matter, though? The Dodgers, who made a total of six errors in that game, were swept four straight by the Orioles.

"There's so many things that are unfair about baseball and about sports, it's unfortunate. Playoffs brings about all kinds of bounces and plays. It would be worse if you were going home. But we still have a chance to redeem ourselves."
-- John Smoltz, Holliday's Cardinals teammate

Verlander has seen both sides of the spectrum. He is a candidate for the AL Cy Young Award this season after winning 19 games for the Tigers, he has thrown a no-hitter and he led Detroit into the 2006 World Series. But once Detroit got there, Verlander joined the goats on parade. Detroit pitchers, one by one, almost comically became unable to throw accurately to first base on key plays. An error by Verlander in the deciding Game 5 against the Cardinals allowed the tying run to score and set up the go-ahead run.

On Oct. 16, 1912, Snodgrass, the New York Giants outfielder, dropped an easy popup in the 10th inning of the decisive eighth game of the World Series against the Red Sox. His error led to a two-run Boston rally and cost the Giants the championship.

Washington, Charley Finley's "designated runner," who hadn't played baseball since high school, appeared as a pinch-runner for Joe Rudi in Game 2 of the 1974 World Series and was picked off first base by Dodgers reliever Mike Marshall in a crucial ninth-inning situation.

Sometimes you don't even have to be a player to be a goat. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda chose to pitch to Jack Clark in Game 6 of the 1985 NLCS, and Clark hit a three-run homer that gave St. Louis the lead and ultimately the pennant. Of course, Lasorda managed World Series champs in 1981 and 1988, another example of how it can work both ways.

The Cubs as a team could be cited for Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS against the Marlins. With a seemingly safe lead in the eighth inning and well on their way to a rare World Series appearance, they imploded. The game is remembered most for fan Steve Bartman reaching over left fielder Moises Alou, who could have potentially made a grab on a foul pop. But shortstop Alex Gonzalez probably had the most blatant goat horns by virtue of booting a tailor-made double-play ball. The Curse of the Billy Goat somehow is especially apt in hindsight with that game. The Marlins advanced and proceeded to win it all.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.