The love for Marco Scutaro this postseason should not be surprising.
He is a good teammate and a stand-up guy who was well-liked during his two years with the Toronto Blue Jays (2008-09). He is a professional, in every sense of the word. However …
A National League Championship Series MVP award? That .500 average and a league championship series record six multihit games? Those 14 hits (another league championship series record)?
The weight of those raw statistics appear to have caught everybody off-guard, including San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
“I knew he was a good player, but to see him day in and day out, you really appreciate his talent,” said Bochy, who despite being 57 is, along with Detroit Tigers counterpart Jim Leyland, in position to become only the 14th manager with 1,400 wins and multiple World Series crowns.
One of the keys to the Blue Jays’ back-to-back World Series wins in 1992-93 was the ability of general manager Pat Gillick to bring in people of quality who had yet to win a title. Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor – to name two – became part of the emotional core of their clubhouses. Teammates wanted to win for them.
That’s not to put Scutaro, who will turn 37 on Tuesday, in the category of those Hall of Famers. But everybody around the Giants will tell you that when he was acquired at the trade deadline in a deal with the Colorado Rockies there was a hard-to-quantify shift in mood.
And when Scutaro responded to Matt Holliday’s roll-block slide in Game 2 of the NLCS by stepping out of the MRI machine and going 12-for-23 – “He raised his game after that slide, and I didn’t know if that was possible, that’s how well he played,” Bochy said – his teammates followed.
That was apparent in the manner in which the Giants went about their business in their 9-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh and deciding game of the NLCS.
Of course, starter Matt Cain meant to hit Holliday with that sixth-inning pitch, as anybody who caught sight of the Cardinals’ dugout reaction can attest. And while Hunter Pence’s broken-bat double in the third broke the game open – TV replays showed he made contact with the ball three times, putting a death-defying amount of English on the ball – the story of that win was also told in the manner with which Pablo Sandoval gleefully hacked away at a 3-0 pitch with a huge lead.
It wasn’t a win. It was a disemboweling.
When Giants GM Brian Sabean acquired Scutaro, there was almost a sense of resignation in his voice as he compared his activities to those of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who acquired one-third of the Boston Red Sox’ core players and Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins. The two teams weren’t fishing in the same pond, Sabean admitted.
But Scutaro wasn’t just an afterthought, either: he is a polished contact hitter who can play third base, shortstop or second. Scutaro has had only 17 strikeouts with the Giants, and raised his OPS by more than 150 points (.684 to .859) in the 61 games he played after the trade. Scutaro has struck out once – once! – this postseason: in Game 1 of the NLCS against reliever Edward Mujica.
Scutaro had been in the postseason just once before in his major-league career: 2006, when he went 1-for-15 in the American League Championship Series and his Oakland Athletics were steamrolled by the Tigers in a four-game sweep. At the end of the next season, he was traded to the Blue Jays for minor-leaguers Kristian Bell and Graham Godfrey. He was allowed to leave Toronto as a free agent after the 2009 season.
The thought of him manning second base for the Blue Jays in 2013, while providing the type of mentor for young Adeiny Hechavarria that Omar Vizquel only pretended to be, is enticing. And his agent, Peter Greenberg, is one of GM Alex Anthopoulos’s favourites.
But the line is long – and after this postseason, it starts in San Francisco.