The trade was a typical July deal -- a team out of the pennant chase cashing in a marquee player for three prospects. For Matt Holliday, though, it was a lot more than that. The swap between Oakland and St. Louis moved Holliday up the standings ladder in a hurry. And he didn't waste any time making the trip.

The A's were in New York, playing the Yankees, when the deal was made, and Holliday, traveling with his family, hustled to Philadelphia to catch up with the Cardinals.

"I was excited about the trade," he said. "I was going from last place to first place to play for a team with a bunch of talent."

"If he gets here, he plays tonight," manager Tony La Russa said after the trade was made.

Holliday got there, grabbing a train with his wife and two sons. He reached Philadelphia in plenty of time to be in the lineup that night and contributed with four hits in his first game with the Cards.

The National League has been trying to catch up with him ever since.

Slotted in the Cardinals' lineup between slugger Albert Pujols and July's NL Player of the Month, Ryan Ludwick, Holliday had hits in each of his first nine games with St. Louis. He reached base two or more times in each of those games, the first Cardinal to achieve that in 43 years. Holliday had two four-hit games, a two-homer game and a batting average over .600 as he settled in with his new team.

It was a dramatic arrival for the three-time All-Star, who has always been a productive hitter, mostly with Colorado where he hit .318 with 142 home runs and 547 RBIs in five seasons. He led the NL with a .340 average, 50 doubles and 137 RBIs in 2007, when the Rockies made it to the World Series. Traded to Oakland prior to this season, he struggled a bit in the new league before a late surge pushed him to .286 with 11 home runs in 93 games at the time of the trade.

When he was traded, Holliday altered his approach a bit.

"I learned a lesson trying to impress people in Oakland," he said. "I was trying to sell myself, trying harder. That doesn't work well. I decided to be myself here, play my game, be who I am. That's what they got me for."

Holliday will be a free agent this winter and was not surprised when the A's cashed him in for three young players. It also gives him an opportunity to return to the postseason.

"That's what every player wants," he said. "A chance to win."

As for next season, Holliday said it's much too early to think about that.

"I want to help these guys try to make it to the postseason," he said. "That's my focus right now."

Holliday was in the middle of Colorado's run to the World Series two years ago, when he batted .289 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in 11 postseason games.

"I had a great time," Holliday commented. "I want to do it again."

The Cardinals hope to give him that chance. Swinging in the cleanup spot, Holliday provides protection for Pujols, although it didn't quite work that way -- at least at the start. In Holliday's first 10 games with the Cardinals, Pujols had his first extended slump of the season, hitting only .200 with no home runs. Pujols then ended an 0-for 13 slide with six straight hits in a two game-series against the Mets, including three doubles and two home runs, one of them a grand slam.

The Cardinals figured that would happen with Holliday's dangerous bat encouraging pitchers to throw better pitches for Pujols to hit. And with Ludwick behind Holliday, the 1-2-3 punch can keep St. Louis in the race right through September.