SAN FRANCISCO — Marco Scutaro was John Wayne.
The 36-year-old former Red Sox infielder, tough as nails, stood in at second base and took a massive hit from Matt Holliday on a first-inning takeout slide that knocked him out of Monday’s 7-1 Giants win over the St. Louis Cardinals that evened the National League Championship Series at a game apiece — but not before he cleared the bases in the fourth inning with a single laced with revenge.
The hit to left-center off Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter scored two runs and was mishandled by Holliday. That allowed Scutaro to take second base and another run to score, the Giants’ fourth of the inning.
Scutaro departed in the sixth inning with a left hip injury, replaced at second base by Ryan Theriot (who contributed a two-run single in the eighth). X-rays were negative, but the tough guy went for an MRI after complaining of soreness and was not available to the media.
The great debate after the game — clean slide or dirty slide?
The prevailing theory in the Giants clubhouse was that the Holliday slide was clean, but late, though manager Bruce Bochy felt it might have been an illegal slide.
“I don’t think he [Holliday] was trying to hurt anyone, but it was late,” said Giants catcher Buster Posey. “I was surprised [Marco] stayed in the game. It goes to show how tough he is and I know that fired us up as a team.”
“I am not a dirty player,” Holliday said. “I went in hard. I tried to break up a double play. I might have started the slide late. I called Marco afterward in the clubhouse to make sure he was OK.”
Amazingly, Scutaro nearly turned the double play, getting off a hard, accurate throw that nearly nipped Allen Craig at first.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, “I haven’t looked at it again [on replay] but we teach our guys to go hard. Play the game clean, play it hard, not try to hurt anybody. And I hated to see that it ended up that way. That’s how we play the game. We do go hard, but within the rules.”
Posey didn’t buy that the baseball gods caught up to Holliday with the outfield error, but Will Clark, who works for the Giants as a special instructor, said, “You can’t tell me there aren’t any baseball gods when something like that happens.
“The fact is there was no attempt to slide into the bag at all. It was clean in that it was over the bag, but it was late.”
Clark said that when he played, you could “take care of this on the field,” but because there’s so much scrutiny now it’ll be tougher for the Giants to exact revenge.
Giants bench coach Ron Wotus said, “[Holliday’s] out there trying to win a ballgame, but I thought the slide was late.”
Scutaro has been a top performer for the Giants since he was acquired from Colorado July 27 for a minor league player. He hit .362 for the Giants in 61 games after hitting .271 for the Rockies in 95 games, and pretty much picked up the offensive slack left behind by Melky Cabrera, who tested positive for testosterone and served a 50-game suspension. Losing Scutaro for any length of time would be a serious blow to the Giants.
“The fact he stayed in the game shows you how tough he is,” said Bochy. “I really think they got away with an illegal slide there. That rule was changed a while back. And he really 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.”
Bochy said he could see Scutaro hobbling.
“As the game went on it gradually got worse,” Bochy said. “Finally it got to the point where he said I can’t move out there so we had to take him out.”
Carpenter, who attended Trinity High School in Manchester, N.H., surrendered a leadoff homer in the first inning to Angel Pagan.
That stood up until Carpenter took matters into his own hands and doubled in Pete Kozma in the second inning against Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong, who allowed one run over seven innings to pick up the win.
Carpenter found himself in trouble in the fourth inning when Brandon Belt doubled to left field and Gregor Blanco hit a high hopper over third baseman David Freese’s head. Carpenter was then charged with an error on a tapper by Brandon Crawford that he fielded and threw wide of first base, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
Vogelsong advanced the runners with a two-strike sacrifice bunt. Carpenter pitched carefully to Pagan and walked him before Scutaro unloaded with the bases-loaded single.
“That was a huge hit for us and Marco’s been doing that since he came over,” Posey said.
Carpenter, the heart and soul of the Cardinals, missed most of the year after he underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, which had begun to ail him in 2008.
Last night he wasn’t the dominating postseason pitcher of the past; he entered with a 10-2 record in 16 starts with a 2.88 ERA, including an 8-0 win over Washington in Game 3 of the NLDS. He went only four innings, allowing six hits and five runs, though only two were earned.
Despite his notable comeback, Carpenter expected better than this.
However, he never expected to meet up with John Wayne.