SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Holliday looked a bit shaken after NLCS Game 2. The Cardinals leftfielder spoke softly and let more than a bit of regret slip out about his first-inning take-out slide of Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro.
"I wish I had started my slide earlier," Holliday said.
Holliday recalled how he even had issued a disclaimer to Giants catcher Buster Posey as he stepped into the batter's box for his third-inning at-bat.
"Tell Marco I should have started my slide a step earlier," Holliday said he told Posey. "I hope he's OK. Obviously I wasn't trying to hurt him."
You are going to hear plenty about that slide over the rest of this series, especially if Scutaro has to miss any playing time. (He went to a hospital for an MRI on his left hip late last night after an x-ray came back negative.) You will hear about "payback" and "retribution" and "dirty play."
But here is what you should know about the slide: It was dirty, but it wasn't intentionally dirty. There is a difference, and the difference might keep this episode from turning into something uglier.
By acceptable standards of the game, if not an actual rule, it is grossly wrong for a baserunner to "slide" so late that he hits the ground on the outfield side of second base. I believe second base umpire Greg Gibson should have called interference and called not just Holliday out (the throw to Scutaro beat him to the bag) but also the batter-runner, Allen Craig. Holliday's slide was that reckless.
The second baseman is extremely vulnerable on the pivot as he takes a throw from the left side of the infield. His back is to the runner and his feet are planted as he catches the baseball. The bag offers some protection from physical harm. One of the ways the second baseman can turn the pivot is to step to the outfield side of the base. This footwork puts the bag between the second baseman and the runner.
But what Holliday did was to take away that protection by sliding so late that he was airborne over the base before hitting the infield dirt on the outfield side of second base. He launched his body into Scutaro.
Don't give me the "this is the playoffs" macho nonsense. The play would have been reckless if it were the last inning of Game 7 of the World Series. Deep down, the sullen Holliday seemed to understand it was not a truly clean and acceptable baseball play. But by the way he explained it, he simply miscalculated -- like pilot error when a plane overshoots the runway on landing.
"It happened fast," he said.
If you've been watching Holliday play the outfield recently -- he has poor hands and has more trouble tracking balls while on the run than any other major league outfielder -- you understand he is a bull in a china shop when it comes to baseball aesthetics. Holliday's explanation wasn't a cover story, and if you saw his pained look, you realized he understood with some regret all the trouble that his slide had caused. His admission that he wished he had slid earlier helped diffuse the situation.
We'll see what happens. Part of the macho code of the game is to "protect your players," so a retaliatory pitch at one of the St. Louis players is not out of the question. But let's be clear so we can move on: The slide was unacceptable, but Holliday took enough ownership of it and there was no indication he went in with malicious intent.
Next up for the Giants for Games 3, 4 and 5 in St. Louis: throwing three starting pitchers who will pull down $52 million this year. San Francisco has lined up Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito to pitch the three games in St. Louis, though manager Bruce Bochy has made no announcement on his Game 5 starter. Bochy's options are Zito or Madison Bumgarner, the lefthander who looked so underwhelming in Game 1. The Giants are leaning toward Zito because they are concerned about Bumgarner.
Bumgarner threw 38 of his first 41 pitches in the narrow range of 87-91 mph. In one sequence to David Freese, he threw pitches clocked at these speeds: 90, 88, 88, 88, 89, 90, 88. The last one, not surprisingly, was blasted for a home run.
Bumgarner's pitches have been so flat that it's hard to tell his slider from his fastball. The Giants insist he is healthy, though he has shown a noticeable drop in velocity after the first inning of his two postseason starts.
The Giants believe his problems are related to mechanics. They broke down video of his Game 1 start and compared it to other starts this year when he threw well. What they found was that his normal slingshot delivery had become even more of a side-to-side movement -- his hand moving like a carousel and less like a Ferris wheel. This rotational movement caused his arm to drag (slowing it, which effects ball velocity and spin rate) and his fingers to fall more to the side of the baseball than on top (causing him to lose movement and bite on his pitches).
If Zito gets the start, the Giants hope he can at least offer more variations in the speed of his pitches to keep the Cardinals off balance. In any case, Game 5 looms as a difficult game for San Francisco to win, which makes the next two nights huge. St. Louis was 31-17 in the regular season when it faced a lefthanded starter.
Here's the view from one high-ranking MLB ownership source on the Yankees franchise after those ugly TV shots of empty seats at Yankee Stadium: their brand has grown stale. "It must be killing Bud [Selig]," said the owner.
The empty seats at Yankee Stadium for ALCS games and the lack of excitement in the stands (granted, the team wasn't hitting; and I don't know any other time when fans were asked to pony up for playoff baseball five straight days) brought to a fore everything from the seating bowl of the stadium, the crass commercialism and price points of the stadium, and the low likeability factor of this team.
One thing that hurts a true connection between the fans and their team is a lack of homegrown talent. When the Yankees lost to Detroit in Game 2, not a single player they drafted and developed accounted for any of their 34 plate appearances or any of the 27 outs they obtained. Second baseman Robinson Cano was signed as an international free agent. Everybody else who took an at-bat or retired a batter was obtained through free agency or a trade.
More and more teams believe one hitting coach isn't enough. The Phillies joined teams such as the Cardinals and Braves when they hired two hitting coaches: Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner.
The job has become too much for one person, what with all the extra batting cages in new stadiums and the availability of video and metrics to study. Actually, you could easily make a case that hitters hit too much. Somewhere there is a manager out there who will curtail the amount of hitting and just plain down time that goes on before games and encourage his players to keep a balanced life and fresher mind.
Keep this in mind as Kyle Lohse takes the ball in front of his home crowd in St. Louis for Game 3: Lohse lost once in 16 home starts this year (8-1, 2.33) and over the past two postseasons St. Louis is 8-1 in games after a loss . . . Why does San Francisco, of all places, play "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" in the seventh inning? . . . The Giants bullpen after two games: one hit, no runs and eight strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings . . . How shocking would it be if Justin Verlander, the hottest pitcher on the planet, gets knocked around by the Yankees, the coldest hitting team? In his past six starts Verlander is 6-0 with a 0.61 ERA with 11 walks and 49 strikeouts in 44 innings . . .
Hey, Bud Selig's crack committee: please get rid of the 45-foot running lane to first base. It causes more problems than it's worth. Why is there no such limitation on any other base? Players make throws into runners at the other three bases without any threat of interference. Brandon Crawford ran out of the lane last night when Chris Carpenter and Allen Craig could not complete the throw that would have made for the second out of the fourth inning. I thought Cardinals manager Mike Matheny should have argued for interference on the rule-book grounds that Crawford being out of the running lane inhibited Craig's ability to make the catch. (The throw does not need to hit the batter-runner for the call to be made.) But Matheny didn't put up a fight, and the Giants went on to a four-run inning.