The amazing story of Brock Holt, the first man to hit for the cycle in a playoff game

NEW YORK – Over the course of 54 postseasons and 394 games, never before had the New York Yankees suffered as severe a beatdown as they did Monday night. Questionable managerial decisions. Anemic hitting. Worse pitching. The 16-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Division Series featured a triumvirate of horror that left Yankee Stadium a quarter-full by the end of the seventh inning, lest any of those exiting early further imbibe in the self-immolation of a 100-win team.

They missed history two innings later, when a wee utilityman stepped to the plate. About 24 hours earlier, Red Sox manager Alex Cora texted Brock Holt to let him know he would be starting the third game of a best-of-five series that was tied at a game apiece. Holt’s response didn’t exactly inspire oodles of confidence: “Are you sure?” In his previous 15 at-bats against Yankees starter Luis Severino, Holt had mustered all of one single.

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Nonplussed, Cora kept his word, inserted Holt in the lineup’s seven spot and watched him single, triple and double. And here he was, in the ninth inning, due up fourth, begging one of his teammates to get on base against pitcher Austin Romine, who up until Monday night’s shellacking had always been catcher Austin Romine.

If any Yankee was going to yield a home run, Romine was the prime candidate, and the confluence of events ensured Holt would receive the opportunity he begged for teammates to give him. After Romine walked Ian Kinsler, Holt stepped up, blitzed a 79.1-mph fastball, watched it land 355 feet away in the right-field bleachers and put himself alone in quite the category. In all of baseball history, a player had hit for the cycle 323 times. Brock Holt was No. 324 – and No. 1 ever in the postseason.

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Brock Holt through the years
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Brock Holt through the years
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 8: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a home run during the inning of game three of the American League Division Series to hit for the cycle against the New York Yankees on October 8, 2018 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 7: Brock Holt #2 of the Pittsburgh Pirates fields a ground ball against the Chicago Cubs during the game on September 7, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Shortstop Brock Holt #2 of the Pittsburgh Pirates autographs the baseball wall at the MLB Fan Cave on September 26, 2012 at Broadway and 4th Street in New York City. (Photo by Josh Haunschild/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 17: Brock Holt #26 of the Boston Red Sox poses during Photo Day on February 17, 2013 at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Robert Rogers/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 15: Brock Holt #26 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on August 15, 2013 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 12: Brock Holt #26 of the Boston Red Sox reacts at second base following his two-run double in the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians during the game at Fenway Park on June 12, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 9: Brock Holt #26 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after knocking in the winning run in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park on July 9, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 25: Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox and Brock Holt #26 look on after colliding on a groundball in the ninth inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on August 25, 2014 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 12: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Brock Holt #26 of the Boston Red Sox in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 12, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Red Sox 14-4.. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 16: Brock Holt #26 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a home run during the seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts on June 16, 2015. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON - JUNE 22: Brock Holt, right, of the Boston Red Sox is pictured with his wife Lakyn, left, at the third annual 'David Ortiz Children's Fund Gala' held at the Boston Marriott Copley Plaza. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 25: Brock Holt #26 of the Boston Red Sox heads out to warm up for the game against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park on July 25, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Detroit won the game 5-1. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 09: Brock Holt #26 of the Boston Red Sox fields during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on August 9, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. The Red Sox defeated the Tigers 7-2. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: Brock Holt #26 of the Boston Red Sox catches a fly ball hit by Justin Smoak #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays during the seventh inning at Fenway Park on September 8, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after sliding into third base in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles during the home opener on April 11, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts . (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox looks on before a game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on May 7, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Red Sox 8-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 01: Jackie Bradley Jr. #25, Brock Holt #16 and Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox celebrate after their victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Fenway Park on July 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 4: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox rounds first base after a home run against the Texas Rangers in the fourth inning on July 4, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 12: Travis Shaw #47 and Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox pose before a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 12, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox walks onto the field before a game against the New York Yankees on September 28, 2016 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Andrew Benintendi #16 and Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox pose for a photograph during a team workout on February 21, 2017 at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida . (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 17: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox reflects before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on July 17, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 1: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox laughs with Mookie Betts #50 after he was tagged out at home by Yan Gomes #7 of the Cleveland Indians, not pictured, during the second inning at Fenway Park on August 1, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON - AUGUST 25: Boston Red Sox left fielder Brock Holt (12) wears a Players Weekend nickname jersey. The Boston Red Sox host the Baltimore Orioles in the first of a three game series at Fenway Park in Boston on Aug. 25, 2017. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 29: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox reacts during a game against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on September 29, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MARCH 28: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox uses a camera during a team workout before Opening Day on March 28, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida . (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 23: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox throws to first base in the bottom of the seventh inning of the game against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park on June 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 5: Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Boston Red Sox reacts with Brock Holt #12 after hitting the game winning walk off single during the tenth inning of a game against the New York Yankees on August 5, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 4: Andrew Benintendi #16, Mookie Betts #50, and Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox pose for a photograph before a game against the New York Yankees on August 4, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 15: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a pinch hit go-ahead RBI double during the fifth inning of a game against the New York Mets on September 15, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 08: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates after hitting a two run home run against Austin Romine #28 of the New York Yankees during the ninth inning in Game Three of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on October 08, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 8: Brock Holt #12 of the Boston Red Sox is doused with Gatorade after hitting for the cycle after game three of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees on October 8, 2018 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
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Of the tens of thousands of individual playoff games, none had one player going single, double, triple, home run. And that on a team with Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi was especially jarring, Holt being who he is, them being who they are. The latter are stars. And Holt – well, Holt is a born-and-bred Texas kid with 20 career home runs to his name who, upon Romine’s entrance, knew his chance for a cycle had drastically increased.

“You get a little antsy when a position player is on the mound,” Holt said. “I told everyone, ‘Get me up. I need a home run for a cycle.’ I was going to try to hit a home run, but I figured I’d ground out to first, be out in front of something. But I scooted up in the box a little bit, and I was going to be swinging at anything and try to hook anything. Obviously, you don’t expect to hit a home run, but I was trying to. I was trying to hit a home run. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever tried to do that.”

Not a bad strategy from Holt. A ninth-round pick in 2009 by Pittsburgh, he excelled in the Pirates’ organization as a big-skill, short-tool prospect – i.e., while his baseball knowledge and approach were nonpareil, his size kept scouts from projecting him to be anything more than a low-end utility type. They got the utility part right at least. When Holt came to the Red Sox in 2012 as the second player in what otherwise is remembered as the disastrous trade for Joel Hanrahan, Boston realized it may ultimately have more in Holt.

It manifested itself in spectacular fashion during Game 3, a showcase in which the 108-win Red Sox beat down the Yankees early and spent the game’s final two hours addressing the wounds as though they were Salt Bae. A sprinkle here, a sprinkle there, each painful, all a reminder that Game 3 of a tied best-of-five series is integral and Brock Holt was cycling and driving in five runs against their ace and the panoply of pitchers who followed.

Never did Yankees manager Aaron Boone find a solution, either for Holt or his own problems. He let Severino, already wobbly headed into the fourth inning, load the bases then and cede to starter-turned-reliever Lance Lynn, who promptly issued a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk. Andrew Benintendi cleared the bases with a double, and the rout was on.

The margin grew so large that Holt could break with the standard approach to a cycle. Don’t talk about it, don’t address it, don’t acknowledge its possibility. No, Holt was loud and clear: He wanted it badly. He’s 30 years old now. He has missed enough time to make him savor these opportunities, not just as a team but as a player who might never find himself with a chance similar to this.

Injuries had derailed most of Holt’s late 20s. A concussion waylaid him and the vertigo that accompanied it left him distraught and other soft-tissue injuries piled up. He wanted to be the same guy who made the AL All-Star team in 2015, or at least a reasonable-enough facsimile of it.

“We know what he can do,” Cora said. “It was just a matter of to use him out there in the right matchup.”

Even if the batter-vs.-pitcher numbers didn’t speak to success, Holt’s splits do. He hits right-handed pitchers much better than lefties. After starting Ian Kinsler at second base in the series’ first two games, Cora went with Holt and wound up with one of the all-time great playoff performances – even with the last hit coming off a pitcher whose fastball is a misnomer, because while it’s a ball, it sure wasn’t fast.

“I feel like I’m a good baseball player when healthy and when right and given an opportunity,” Holt said. “So you try to stay ready. In the position I’m in, you try to stay ready, and whenever your name’s called, you try to do what you can to help the team. I was able to do that.”

Enough that the expectation is Cora will start Holt again as the Yankees try to salvage their season and send the series back to Boston for a do-or-die Game 5. The quandary with that: Cora sparingly uses him against southpaws, and the Yankees’ Game 4 starter is CC Sabathia, the crafty veteran lefty.

What that holds for Holt is anyone’s best guess, though no matter how keen a crystal ball one may possess, nobody could’ve foreseen Monday. The ugliest playoff loss in Yankees history was bad enough. This was gravy, an unforgettable gift, a lifetime achievement – and a text he’ll never delete, a reminder that Alex Cora being sure got the Boston Red Sox one step closer to the World Series.

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