SAN FRANCISCO — Marco Scutaro was John Wayne.
The 36-year-old former Red Sox shortstop proved to be tough as nails, recovering from a massive first-inning hit from Matt Holliday on a slide to deliver a key bases-loaded single in the fourth inning that sparked the San Francisco Giants to a 7-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals Monday that evened the National League Championship Series at a game apiece.
Scutaro’s two-run single to left-center was mishandled by Holliday, allowing the San Francisco second baseman to take second and bringing in another run, the fourth of the inning off St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter.
Scutaro left the game in the sixth inning with a left hip injury and was replaced by Ryan Theriot, who contributed a two-run single in the eighth inning that sealed the victory.
X-rays on Scutaro’s hip 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 said he 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 as his throw was a half-step slow in nipping Allen Craig at first.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny defended his player.
“I haven’t looked at it again [on replay] but we teach our guys to go hard,’’ the first-year manager said. “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 on Scutaro’s hit, 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.”
Giants bench coach Ron Wotus said, “[Holliday’s] out there trying to win a ballgame, but I thought the slide was late.”
Scutaro hit .362 in 61 games for the Giants after being acquired from the Colorado Rockies in late July for a minor leaguer. He picked up a big portion of the offensive slack left behind from Melky Cabrera, who was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for testosterone. Losing Scutaro for any length of time would be a serious blow to the team’s postseason hopes.
“The fact he stayed in the game shows you how tough he is,” Bochy said. “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,” he 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 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 gave up one run in seven innings to earn the victory.
Carpenter was in trouble in the fourth inning when Brandon Belt doubled to left field and Gregor Blanco hit a high hop over third baseman David Freese’s head. Carpenter was then charged with an error on a tapper from Brandon Crawford that he fielded and threw wide of first base, allowing the Giants to take a 2-1 lead.
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. The best part for Giants fans was that Holliday booted the ball, allowing Scutaro to go to second and the Giants to build a commanding 5-1 lead.
“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 defending World Series champion Cardinals, missed most of the year after he underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. He returned to make three starts at the end of the season.
Monday night he wasn’t the dominating postseason pitcher of the past, when he compiled 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 pitched only four innings against the Giants, giving up six hits and the five runs (two earned).
Despite his notable comeback, Carpenter expected better than this.
Though he never expected to meet up with John Wayne.