SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Holliday is not a dirty player. "He's not malicious, he's not angry, he's not yelling at people," says Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt, who was the Cardinals leftfielder's teammate in Colorado in 2006 and '07. What Holliday is, however, is big and muscular -- he is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds -- and competitive, and in the top of the first inning of Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night, the combination of those qualities worked to the detriment of Marco Scutaro, the Giants second baseman, who stands 5-10, weighs 185 pounds and will turn 37 later this month.
With one out in the inning, and Carlos Beltran on second and Holliday on first, the Cardinals cleanup hitter, Allen Craig, hit a bouncing grounder to shortstop Brandon Crawford that seemed certain to become an inning-ending double play. As Scutaro pivoted to throw on to first, he faded behind the second base bag, but he did not fade enough to avoid the onrushing Holliday. Holliday slid late -- intentionally, quite obviously -- and then barrel-rolled into Scutaro's planted left leg.
It was the type of hit that has forced dozens of NFL quarterbacks to have their knees surgically pieced back together -- although Scutaro, whose knee ligaments must be made of woven Kevlar, stayed in the game -- and the Giants were divided as to how ethically questionable it was. "You're going to go hard, and things happen fast," said rightfielder Hunter Pence. "It's part of the game," said Pablo Sandoval. "I really think they got away with an illegal side there," said the team's manager, Bruce Bochy.
One thing on which all the Giants could agree was that even though Holliday was successful in breaking up the double play, his act directly led to their club's winning by the score of 7-1, and, after a disheartening 6-4 loss in Game 1, evening the series at one game apiece. "That particular play pumped us up, and kind of got us going," said leftfielder Gregor Blanco. "After that, we say, 'We are a team, too, and we have to try to show them that we can win this game.' And we did."
Echoed Pence, "When you see one of your guys go down -- well, you always want to win the game, but it's like, 'Let's go, let's put it on the board.'"
They did so, against Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter. Minutes after Holliday's takeout of Scutaro, Angel Pagan led off the bottom of the first with a home run, to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. Scutaro followed with a single up the middle, and three innings later it was Scutaro who struck the game's biggest blow, ripping a two-out, bases-loaded single to left to drive in two. A third run scored, and extended San Francisco's lead to 5-1, when Holliday -- who, if he did not before, now ought to believe in karma -- allowed the ball to skip under his glove, committing the Cardinals' second error of the inning. "We were pumped up," Pence would say. "Scutaro inspired us."
That is not a new state of affairs for San Francisco. In a deal that was little spoken of at the time -- in part because it was overshadowed by the headline-dominating trades pulled off by his friend and competitor in Los Angeles, the Dodgers' Ned Colletti -- Giants G.M Brian Sabean in late July acquired Scutaro from the Rockies in exchange for young second baseman Charlie Culberson, whose career batting average is .136, whose career slugging percentage is .136 and whose career on-base percentage is .136. In 61 regular season games with San Francisco, Scutaro hit .362 with three home runs and 44 RBI's -- a pace that translates to 117 over a full season. Before Scutaro's arrival, through July 27, the Giants' offense had scored 401 runs, ranking it 24th in the league. From July 28 until the end of the season, the Giants scored 317 runs, ranking it third in that period behind only the Brewers and Yankees.
"He made this really a different club," said Bochy last week. "He was the guy that kept the line moving."
Scutaro again kept it moving on Monday, for as long as he was physically able: he was replaced by Ryan Theriot prior to the top of the sixth, the pain from his encounter with Holliday finally too much for even him to bear. "It was bothering him quite a bit," Bochy said. "And it finally got to a point that he said, 'I can't move out there,' so we had to take him out." By that point, he and the rest of his lineup had done more than enough to support starter Ryan Vogelsong. Just as he had done in Game 3 of the NLDS -- when he helped to turn that series around after two losses in which the Reds had outscored the Giants 14-2 -- Vogelsong provided his club a sterling performance when it, and particularly its overtaxed bullpen, desperately needed it. In his seven innings, Vogelsong allowed one run on four hits.
"That's as clutch as you're going to get," Pence said of Vogelsong. "We were down 0-2 in a five-game series, and he picked us up. Today, down 0-1 in a Championship series, and he picked us up. You can't say enough about it."
Although the series is now tied, the Giants still seem the underdog, for several reasons. The next three games will be played in St. Louis, the first of them on Wednesday, at 4 p.m. ET. As it appears that Madison Bumgarner might not again get the ball after on Sunday turning in his seventh miserable start of his last nine outings, two of those games -- Game 4 and Game 5 -- will likely be started by the struggling Tim Lincecum and the unreliable Barry Zito. And the Giants might be without Scutaro, whose left hip was x-rayed -- it was negative -- but who was schedule to undergo an MRI on Tuesday morning, before the team plane heads East. "We're hoping for the best," said Bochy.
Even so, since the top of the fourth inning of Game 1, the Giants have outscored the Cardinals 11-1, and their win in Game 2, while crucial as far as the series' score, was important in other ways. Vogelsong's effort demonstrated that St. Louis's lineup, so relentless this time of year, can be tamed. And Scutaro demonstrated that it is not always the Cardinals who deliver the last blow.