SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Matt Holliday’s aggressive takeout slide on Marco Scutato was the flashpoint moment of last year’s memorable National League Championship Series.
You remember what happened: Scutaro dusted himself off, went for precautionary X-rays on his hip, jumped off the exam table and spent the rest of the series whacking everything the St. Louis Cardinals threw at him. He was 14-for-28 to win NLCS MVP honors.
Following the “if you can’t beat ‘em…” line of logic, the Cardinals made an aggressive pitch to sign Scutaro over the winter. And once again, it was Holliday who made contact.
“I got a text from him, and from another player,” said Scutaro, who would’ve taken the Cardinals’ two-year, $18 million offer if the Giants hadn’t committed to a third year. “It was here or St. Louis – two very good teams with a chance to win. I can’t say anything bad about that team. They were very professional.”
Did Holliday apologize once more via text, ensure there were no hard feelings from his barrel-rolling slide that knocked Scutaro from Game 2?
“No, he already did that the next day, told me he hoped nothing bad happened,” Scutaro said.
This text was more of a recruiting pitch. The offer was tempting enough, too. It was much higher than the Giants’ best two-year proposal, which they preferred.
But early on in the offseason, Scutaro and his agents told Giants officials that a three-year, $20 million offer would get it done.
As it turned out, that wasn’t nearly as much per season as the Cardinals were offering. So even when the Giants crossed the bridge at the winter meetings and met Scutaro’s early demands, they weren’t sure the veteran infield would take it.
But just as he promised, three and 20 got it done – giving the Giants one more reason to respect their contact-hitting second baseman.
Was it important that he stay true to his word, I asked?
“Well, yeah,” he told me. “I told them this was probably my last long-term contract and I was going to go with the best situation. I’m just happy and thankful it worked out and now I can ask God or health to help this team win some games.”
Scutaro certainly did that after the Giants acquired him from the Colorado Rockies last July for minor league infielder Charlie Culberson. He hit .362 in 61 regular-season games and will carry a 20-game hitting streak into 2013.
Yes, his .366 average on balls in play might be unsustainable. But his 94 percent contact percentage on swings taken was the best in the majors, and his skill set makes him a perfect hit-and-run man in the No.2 slot for a club that thrived despite hitting the fewest home runs in the major leagues.
“What happened to me last year was a blessing,” said Scutaro, reminding that fellow Venezuelan Omar Vizquel played 24 years in the big leagues and only made the World Series once, coming out on the losing end with Cleveland.
Vizquel played into his mid-40s before finally retiring last year and taking a job as a roving infield coach with the Angels. Scutaro will be 40 in the final season of his contract, as it’s been pointed out many times.
Is Scutaro ready to play into his 40s?
“Well,” he said, “after three years, we talk.”
Scutaro said he hasn’t seen too much footage of the NLCS, including his memorable “Shawshank” moment when he stretched out his arms, tilted back his head and fully soaked in a sudden downpour in the ninth inning of Game 7.
“I spent four years in Oakland and I’d never seen rain like that in the Bay Area,” he said. “I’m playing deep at second base, two strikes away, one strike away from the World Series, and all of the sudden you feel this rain coming down. You think, `Is that a message?’ That’s the reason I did that. It came without notice, like, pow! It’s cool that people took a lot of pictures.”
Those memories are fresh. A short offseason will do that.
“I took my glove out from my bag yesterday and it’s still cold from Detroit,” he said, smiling.
The Tigers went down in a four-game sweep. If not for Scutaro and his exploits in the NLCS, the Giants wouldn’t have gotten that far.
“The Cardinals, to me, that was a better team than any of them,” Scutaro said.
But on April 5, when the Cardinals will stand on the field as the Giants raise the World Series banner, Holliday will be on one baseline. Scutaro will be on the other.
Scutaro was good to his word.