SAN FRANCISCO – It's a series, because the San Francisco Giants won a home playoff game, and there's torment, because Marco Scutaro spent the late innings on an X-ray table, and there's a villain, because Matt Holliday put him there.
The cool and dignified National League Championship Series between the past two World Series champions wound up in a heap beside second base Monday night at AT&T Park. By way of their 7-1 win, the Giants tied the series at a game apiece. They passed on evening the score with Holliday, however, and so it all lingers on a pair of chartered flights to St. Louis.
These are the places where best-of-sevens choose their course: In a second baseman presumably out of harm's way, in a late and reckless – minimally, overzealous – take-out attempt, and then in the part where they have to put the second baseman back together again.
Depending on one's life prism, Holliday broke up a double play with a hard, honest slide or Wile E. Coyoted a double play by slingshotting himself through Scutaro's plan to at some point walk from the field.
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There would be no double play. There would, however, be that X-ray, and possibly an MRI, and perhaps a change in the Giants' lineup come Game 3, because by the sixth inning Scutaro's left hip was too sore to carry him.
These are the vagaries of that bag, of a man whose head is turned, of a slow grounder and the spirit of October ball. They are the same shades of gray that color the catcher at home plate, that once cost the Giants' Buster Posey most of a season. They ask what is fair and what is excessive, what is within the boundaries of the game and what is nothing more than a cheap shot clothed in the innocent pursuit of hardball.
On a warm evening here when Game 2 still sought its direction, Holliday charged from first base. Scutaro stood defensively on the left-field side of second base. Brandon Crawford flipped the ball to Scutaro. And Holliday flung himself over the bag, crashing into Scutaro's left leg. The very first part of Holliday to strike dirt was his left knee, which skidded over the far side of the bag. The rest of him followed in a violent tangle that concluded with Scutaro's left ankle tucked under his – Holliday's – armpit.
Typically, when a 6-foot-4, 240-pound man is launching himself at a 5-foot-10, 185-pound man, it's fourth-and-eight and one of them is wearing a single-bar helmet.
Scutaro fell beneath Holliday, who'd not strayed from the basepath or necessarily barrel-rolled. He'd sought Scutaro, however, and found him flush somewhere beyond the base, and came in too high and too hard, even for the spirit of postseason baseball. Umpire Greg Gibson ruled there had been no interference, a conclusion Giants manager Bruce Bochy argued for about as long as the Giants trainer tended to Scutaro.
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"I think they got away with an illegal slide there," Bochy said later. "That rule was changed a while back. … Marco was behind the bag and got smoked. It's a shame somebody got hurt because of this. And that's more of a [rolling] block. That rule was changed.
"You're all for playing hard. We are."
Will Clark, the former Giants player and current icon who works as special assistant to general manager Brian Sabean, took issue with Holliday's intent.
"It was legal because he went over the bag," Clark said. "But it was very, very late. In that sense he didn't even try to slide into the bag. That's why we were pissed."
Holliday spoke softly in a losing clubhouse. The Cardinals had won Sunday night with a taut, expressive game. They'd gone ragged in Game 2. Chris Carpenter, their hero of enough Octobers, was done after four innings. They'd commit two errors – one of them Holliday's on what became a three-run single for Scutaro – and other misplays. The Giants had turned on them, beginning with Angel Pagan's leadoff home run only several minutes after Holliday had taken out Scutaro.
Lying in the dirt behind second base, Holliday had patted Scutaro and asked if he was all right. Scutaro hadn't answered.
"In hindsight, I wish I had started my slide a step earlier," Holliday said. "Obviously I didn't want to land on top of him. I hope he's OK. I know him. He's a nice guy."
And yet, Holliday said, "It's part of the deal as far as keeping us out of the double play. … I'm not a dirty player. Like I said, I wish I'd started my slide earlier.
"People can say whatever they want. I hope he's OK."
The heat of the game, he said. The double play, he said. This was not his intent, he said.
In his third-inning at-bat, Holliday spoke to Posey, the Giants catcher.
"I told him to tell Marco I wish I'd started my slide a little earlier," Holliday recounted. "And I hoped he was OK."
In his next three at-bats, Holliday did not hit the ball out of the infield. In the fourth inning, when the Giants struck for four runs, Holliday's error – he clanked a four-hopper in the outfield – helped fuel it.
"I felt bad," he said. "When a guy has to leave the game, it bothers me. I care about other people. I hope he's not injured."
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In fewer than three months, since he came to the Giants from Colorado at the trading deadline, Scutaro has become a symbol of a club that fought back from the Melky Cabrera suspension and the Los Angeles Dodgers' gluttony. He batted .362 in 61 regular-season games for the Giants. After a quiet division series, he is 4 for 8 in the NLCS.
He is not a throwaway second baseman. He has touched a veteran clubhouse with his poise. In the stands at AT&T Park, sections of fans will shout "Marco!" Other sections will respond "Scutaro!" And they will find each other in their admiration for the 36-year-old Venezuelan who helped get them this far.
And so Holliday was booed each time he came to the plate. And he was cheered when he kicked that ball in left field. He is the villain, deliberately or not, because the people here believed they'd seen that line crossed before.
Ryan Theriot took over at second base, and even delivered a two-run single that finished the Cardinals in the eighth inning. The series moved on to St. Louis, tied at one, having found its moment, and perhaps its direction.
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