Now that Marco Scutaro has survived baseball’s version of a train wreck, it’s fair to say that Matt Holliday’s overzealous slide in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series produced an unexpected benefit.
People finally saw what Scutaro is all about.
Fans in Boston should know — they watched Scutaro repeatedly play through injuries during his two seasons with the Red Sox. Fans of Scutaro’s other previous teams — the Rockies, Blue Jays, Athletics and Mets — should know, too.
Scutaro, in the words of Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, demonstrates a “quiet toughness.” That toughness was on display Monday night, when Scutaro A) completed his throw to first base after Holliday plowed into him in the first inning trying to break up a double play; and B) remained in the game to produce a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single in the fourth before departing two innings later.
“That guy is as tough as nails,” said former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who acquired Scutaro from the A’s in Nov. 2007. “You don’t ever have to worry about him. He’s a baseball guy. That doesn’t surprise me at all, that he hung on the bag.”
The collision was so violent, Giants GM Brian Sabean couldn’t figure out what Scutaro had injured — “he was so contorted … it could have been his ankle, knee and hip,” Sabean said. An MRI revealed a left hip strain and contusion, and Scutaro woke up Tuesday with a sore left knee.
Manager Bruce Bochy, after the Giants arrived in St. Louis, said during a news conference that Scutaro would not work out with the team. But Scutaro spent about 20 minutes on the field as the Giants worked out, jogging, moving side to side, even hitting.
The Giants, with the series tied at one game apiece, are optimistic that Scutaro will return at second base for Game 3 against the Cardinals on Wednesday (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX).
Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd said he was not surprised by Scutaro’s courage — and O’Dowd knows Scutaro quite well. He traded for Scutaro last January, and — as the Indians’ farm director — oversaw the signing of Scutaro out of Venezuela by scout Luis Aponte in 1994.
“Marco is a winning player in everything that he does, and as tough a player as there is in the game,” O’Dowd said. “He gets it because he has earned it. His path wasn’t an easy one. But he could play in any era. I love the guy.”
Scutaro did not make his major league debut until he was 26. He has remained largely anonymous through his 11-year career. But reporters surrounded him after the Giants’ workout Tuesday afternoon, eager to hear his thoughts on Holliday’s slide.
Someone asked him how he would react if Holliday tries to talk to him before Game 3.
“I might kick his ass,” Scutaro said, evoking hearty laughter.
He had not been available the previous night in San Francisco; he had been undergoing an MRI. Scutaro said that after he saw the replay, he was “kind of” upset with Holliday. But he had the perfect response to a question about possible retaliation by the Giants’ pitchers.
“I want to throw them a nine-inning shutout and we win,” Scutaro said.
He spoke for about 10 minutes, saying he felt better than the day before, saying that he “probably” would play Wednesday. His biggest problems, he said, would be moving laterally at second and cutting the bases. Rain is forecast for St. Louis on Wednesday, but Bochy said the possibility of a wet field would not deter him from playing Scutaro “if he’s good to go.”
Here’s how Scutaro remembered his collision with Holliday, which occurred with runners on first and second and one out after a ball hit by Allen Craig:
“It was kind of a slow roller. All of a sudden, I saw this train coming. I didn’t have time pretty much to do anything. As soon as I caught ball, he was pretty much on top of me. I don’t even know how I threw the ball to first, but I think I did, right?”
The Giants’ complaint with Holliday is that he slid late, high and hard. Scutaro joked that if Holliday went any further over the bag, he would have hit the shortstop. But he also said that he didn’t think Holliday was trying to hurt him, called Holliday “a great guy” and expressed gratitude that Holliday tried to reach him in the clubhouse.
“It was nice to hear from him after he kicked my ass,” Scutaro cracked.
And when does Scutaro, 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, plan to return the favor?
“Whenever he wants,” Scutaro joked. “He’s only 6-4, 250, no big deal.”
Scutaro might kid, but Ricciardi, now a special assistant with the Mets, said that the infielder’s toughness “shows up in a lot of ways.”
Through his ability to grind at-bats. Through his desire to play every inning. Through his reluctance — as everyone saw Monday night — to come out of games.
Scutaro spent six seasons in the minors, the last three at Triple A, before making his major league debut in 2002. He never has been an All-Star, but Ricciardi insists he should have made the team in 2009, his second year with the Jays, when he had an .804 OPS at the break.
The Red Sox signed him after that season to a free-agent contract that ultimately grew to three years, $17 million. They traded him to the Rockies to clear payroll last January, and the Rockies traded him to the Giants on July 27 in another financially driven move.
Oddly, Scutaro hit far better with the Giants, who play at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, than he did with the Rockies, who play at hitter-friendly Coors Field. The Giants initially needed him at third in place of the injured Pablo Sandoval, but Scutaro stayed so hot — batting .362 with an .859 OPS in 61 games — that he replaced Ryan Theriot at second after Sandoval returned.
Scutaro’s most impressive offensive attribute is his uncanny ability to make contact. He had the lowest swing-and-miss rate in the majors during the regular season, missing only 59 times in 1,063 swings, or 5.6 percent. With the Giants, his rate was even lower — 3.7 percent.
Wotus said his phone began “ringing off the hook,” after the team acquired Scutaro for minor league infielder Charlie Culberson. Coaches from other teams were calling, telling Wotus that the Giants had unearthed a gem, a skilled contributor on the field, a steadying, popular force in the clubhouse.
So, while Monday night’s collision was a near-calamitous event, it ended up providing the latest evidence of something that baseball people have known about Marco Scutaro for a long time.