Slide fires up Giants, leads to early Scutaro exit
Infielder comes through before leaving in sixth with injured hip; X-rays negative
SAN FRANCISCO -- The 2012 National League Championship Series got a new focal point very early in Monday night's Game 2.We moved past the October destructions of Carlos Beltran and David Freese, as well as dueling catching mavens. The new focus wasn't Hunter Pence's reserve, and it certainly wasn't Chris Carpenter's customary dominance.
No, this NLCS suddenly became all about "The Slide" in the top of the first inning of the Giants' series-knotting 7-1 victory. Matt Holliday's slide into Marco Scutaro broke up a double play, fired up the Giants, messed up Will Clark's role in the last really good mess between the Giants and the Cardinals.Clark and St. Louis second baseman Jose Oquendo -- now the Cardinals' longtime third-base coach -- mixed it up in a memorable July 1988 game a few months after the teams' clash in the 1987 NLCS. "That was just like this series," said Clark, one of many Giants special assistants, but the only one who regularly dresses for games. "The Cardinals and ourselves were very evenly matched and it went seven games, all hotly contested. I don't expect anything different in this series." He didn't get anything different early in Monday's game. Following Ryan Vogelsong's walk of Beltran with a single, Holliday was on first when Allen Craig hit a grounder to shortstop Brandon Crawford. Crawford fed Scutaro to force Holliday ... then lost sight of him. Somewhere beneath the 235-pound Holliday was the 185-pound Scutaro. From the pretzel of humanity resulting from what San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy later called "an illegal slide," a ball remarkably came out, heading to first base, late for the double play, but accurate. Asked whether he was surprised that Scutaro remained in the game for five more innings, long enough to deliver the Giants' biggest hit with a two-run single in the fourth, Crawford said, "I was surprised he got a throw off to first." Crawford went to his fallen comrade's side, and both just waited silently for the medics to come out. "He seemed hurt," Crawford said, "and was just kind of waiting for the trainers to get there. He's a tough player. Still don't know how hurt he is." So soon after the game's conclusion, teammates still didn't know results of X-rays on Scutaro's left hip. "Negative," Bochy was concurrently telling media. "He was pretty sore, had to come out of the game. We'll do some more tests [Tuesday] and see where he's at. He showed how tough he is, and I really think they got away with an illegal slide there. "[Holliday] didn't hit dirt until he was past the bag. Marco was behind the bag and got smoked. It's a shame somebody got hurt because of this. And that's more of a roadblock." Bochy was far more critical than any of his players, among whom there were no accusations of willful damage on Holliday's part. To them, he didn't have bad intentions, just bad timing. In a move more appropriately called "barreling" rather than "sliding," Holliday, a former football standout, lurched across the bag into Scutaro's legs, taking them out from under him. "He was right on the base," recalled Holliday, "and I just tried to slide into him to make sure he couldn't turn the double play. In hindsight, I wish I would have started my slide a step earlier. But it's happening fast, and you're trying to get to his lower half so that he can't turn the double play." "I thought it was pretty late," noted Crawford, obviously the closest teammate to the play. "I'm sure he was just trying to go in there hard and break it up, trying to get that guy [Craig] safe at first. I don't think he's a dirty player. I do think he went in too late that time." Three innings later, Scutaro took his revenge, baseball-style, ripping a bases-loaded single to left field that became a three-run play when the ball got past Holliday for an error. The hit turned a tight 2-1 game into a 5-1 romp. "He's a clutch hitter, he always has been," Carpenter said. "He's proven it, I know, since he came over here, and he's not going to miss those opportunities. Unfortunately, I left it over the middle of the plate for him. "I had an opportunity to make a pitch and get out of it, and I didn't. Scutaro got me," added Carpenter, who probably had even more admiration for Scutaro after finding out just how badly he was feeling in the batter's box. "Oh, yeah, by then it was bothering him quite a bit," Bochy noted. "He was hurting. But he goes out and gets a big hit like that." "When Scutaro got up and kept on playing, and had good at-bats and that big hit ... that's what fired us up," said first baseman Brandon Belt, offering a more sanitized version than that of Hunter Pence. Pence, who had a pretty good view of Holliday's slide from his post in right field, said the play "pumped us up." "When you see one of your guys go down," Pence said, "you just kind of go, 'Let's go. Let's put it on the board.'" Matt Cain, the Giants' starter in Game 3 of the series on Wednesday in St. Louis, referred to Holliday's slide as "a little over the line" during an in-game interview on FOX. After the collision, Holliday was lustily jeered by the AT&T Park sellout crowd at every opportunity, and the booing grew even louder following Scutaro's departure. The jeers turned to brief cheers when Scutaro's key hit went to and through Holliday's legs, a religious moment for Clark. "There is a baseball god," Clark said. "Definitely. That's the reason the same guy who hit him boots the ball. Baseball gods shine in a weird way." Clark paused briefly, and recited from his old-school textbook: "To be continued ... Game 3."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.