Two snapshots from the San Francisco Giants’ 7-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLCS that evened the series at a win apiece.
1. Top of the first inning, Matt Holliday on first base, Carlos Beltran on second base with one out, Allen Craig hits a relatively slow chopper to shortstop Brandon Crawford. Holliday takes out second baseman Marco Scutaro with a vicious late slide that extends well beyond second base, leaving Scutaro sprawled in pain on the ground. After watching the replay, it seems amazing Scutaro didn’t tear up his knee on the slide, which I would characterize as hard-nosed baseball, but a little more on the side of "cheap" than merely "aggressive."
(In the initial postgame interviews on FOX, both Angel Pagan and Ryan Vogelsong were diplomatic about Holliday's slide, saying they hadn't seen the replay yet. During an in-game interview during the broadcast, Matt Cain said he thought it looked like a late slide.)
2. Bottom of the fourth inning, Giants up 2-1, two outs and the bases loaded for Scutaro after Chris Carpenter had delicately pitched around Pagan with first base open. With the count 1-1, Scutaro lines a 91 mph sinking fastball over shortstop to score two runs, and when Holliday booted the ball, a third run scored.
Scutaro would remain in the game for another inning before finally leaving with a sore left hip that required a trip to the hospital for X-rays. Tough? Sure. But in reviewing Scutaro’s career, not exactly surprising.
Scutaro is one of those great baseball stories that make this game so appealing. Originally signed by the Indians out of Venezuela in 1994, Scutaro first reached Triple-A in 1997. From there, it only took him six years to land a regular job in the big leagues. The Indians traded him to the Brewers, who would eventually put him on waivers. The Mets would claim him and give him a couple cups of coffee in 2002 and 2003, but they’d eventually put him waivers so they could play guys like Daniel Garcia, Wilson Delgado and Joe McEwing.
The A’s claimed him and in 2004 -- now 28 years old -- he accumulated 477 plate appearances, starting much of the year at second base when Mark Ellis got injured and missed the entire season. He played a lot for the A’s the next three seasons, never really earning a regular starting job, but finding ways to get in the lineup. It wasn't until 2008, when he was traded to the Blue Jays, that he finally batted 500 times in a season. He was 32 years old and his career was just taking off.
Scutaro began this season year with the Rockies, but hit an uninspiring .271/.324/.361 with them. The Giants acquired him to shore up their problems at second base and he hit .362/.385/.473 in 61 games with San Francisco, becoming a key to the team’s surge on offense after the All-Star break. As Carpenter found out, he’s a tough out in bases-loaded situation because he’s that rare player who brings an old-school approach to the plate -- he puts the ball in play. He struck out in 7.2 percent of his plate appearances, the best rate in the majors, and swung and missed on just 5 percent of his swings, again the best rate in the majors.
Scutaro’s base hit was the game’s key play. Now the Giants hope they haven’t lost a key player.
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Vogelsong became the first Giants starter to last six innings in this year’s postseason, going an outstanding seven innings and allowing just four hits and two walks. Vogelsong normally gets more fly balls than groundball outs, but got eight groundball outs and three in the air. He also got five infield popouts, a sign that he was able to get inside on the Cardinals' hitters, such as when he jammed Holliday on a foul pop to first base in the fifth. Asked about pitching inside after the game, Vogelsong deflected that question by saying he just saw Buster Posey's glove and kept hitting it.
Here’s a look at Vogelsong’s Hot Zones during the season:
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The Cardinals’ defense had several miscues. Carpenter’s error on Crawford’s chopper helped extend that fourth inning. On the play, first baseman Craig originally charged the ball, but hustled back to first when he saw Carpenter had it. He never got his feet and missed Carpenter’s throw. Holliday’s error let in another run, and later David Freese and Holliday misplayed Aubrey Huff’s fly ball down the left-field line into a single, leading to two more runs in the eighth. Keep an eye on that St. Louis defense moving forward, especially the play of Freese and Craig at the corners.
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Cain will start for the Giants in Game 3, but manager Bruce Bochy hasn’t announced his starters beyond that, other than saying you can expect Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito in some order -- which apparently means we shouldn’t expect Madison Bumgarner the rest of the series. Considering the extent to which the Cardinals pummel left-handers, any start by Zito or an obviously gassed Bumgarner looks like a bad option at this time. Bochy will have to consider turning the Zito game into a bullpen game -- hope you get three innings out of him and then get him out at the first sign of trouble after that. (Which is why I would start Lincecum in Game 4; if you need to deploy your entire bullpen in Game 5, at least you get a day off before Game 6.)