For those who believe that baseball is a morality play with batting helmets and pine tar, Monday was definitely your night.
Let's check off the elements. There was an appealing hero. There was a dastardly villain. And there was a satisfying ending for the home team when the hero who was knocked down, Marco Scutaro, stood back up and three innings later unloaded the game's biggest hit before leaving the game in intense pain.
Heck, it could have been a Hallmark television drama, if Hallmark did television dramas about second basemen from Venezuela.
"I think Scutaro inspired us," said Giants' outfielder Hunter Pence. "It's pretty incredible what he was able to do."
First and most importantly, Scutaro helped propel the Giants to a 7-1 victory on the scoreboard and send them to St. Louis for three games with the National League Championship Series tied at 1-1.
"It's a great baseball town," said Giants' infielder (and former Cardinal) Ryan Theriot after the final pitch. "It's going to be an intense series."
Going to be? Please shift that to present tense, sir.
Funny enough, in Monday's early going, the Giants and Cardinals were getting along just dandy at AT&T Park. All was sportsmanlike. All was proper. All was doggone swell.
For exactly three batters in the top of the first inning.
Then up came the fourth hitter in the Cardinals' batting order, Allen Craig, who hit a ground ball to the shortstop. The ball was flipped to Giants' second baseman Scutaro. He tagged the bag to force out St. Louis baserunner Matt Holliday, charging down the path from first base.
However, as Scutaro unloaded the ball to first for an attempted (and unsuccessful) double play, Holliday kept coming. He slid at the bag. Then he slid past the bag. Then he slid into the left leg of Scutaro, hooked an elbow around Scutaro's knee and performed a Hulk Hogan elbow suplex with a reverse mandible claw octopus cloverleaf sleeper hold.
All right, slight exaggeration. But it was ugly. Scutaro went down in a heap. He writhed in agony for a few seconds, although he would stay in the game. The crowd booed Holliday as he trotted back to his team's bench. And in the Giants' dugout, emotions gurgled—even if opinions on the play were mixed.
"Of course, everybody was upset," said Giants' outfielder Gregor Blanco. "You don't want to see your teammate get hurt . . . You get mad. But if I'm at first base running, that's how you run. It was just a hard play. I think that's how most of us play the game.
"I think Matt's a sincere competitor," said Giants relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt. "He plays hard. He slid hard. I really wish he wouldn't have slid that late."
Holliday's play was seemingly legal under baseball rules. But there are other, less violent ways to break up a double play. The 6-foot-4m 240-pound Holliday, a former high school football player, could have come in higher with his hands in the air and made less strident contact.
"In hindsight, I wish I would have started my slide a step earlier," said Holliday. "It was happening fast . . . I was trying to do anything that kept us out of a double play . . . Obviously, I hope he's okay. I know him. He's a good guy."
In the eyes of the Giants fan tribe, these good wishes won't make Holliday less of a scoundrel — especially because manager Bruce Bochy didn't deem the slide to be 100% kosher.
"I really think they got away with an illegal slide there," said Bochy. "That rule was changed a while back. And he (Holliday) really didn't hit dirt until he was past the bag. Marco was behind the bag and got smoked."
Yet in dramatic terms, this all simply led us to Act II of the morality play. Because after Holliday appeared to go directly for Scutaro's knee, Scutaro went directly for the Cardinals' throats. That occurred three innings later, when Scutaro came to the plate with the bases loaded and the Giants holding a narrow 2-1 lead.
On the third pitch from from Cardinals' starter Chris Carpenter, Scutaro laced a line drive into left field . . . . which plunked down at the feet of Holliday . . . and rolled between his legs for an error. All three Giant runners scored. Broke the game wide open.
Was it the baseball gods simply making things right?
"I believe in a lot of things," Pence said after thinking about that for a while. "I don't know about baseball gods. I do believe in God. I do believe in karma."
Make it karma, then. Scutaro left the game two innings later, saying his left hip hurt too much. He went for x-rays which initially appeared to be negative. A further exam is scheduled for Tuesday.
Whether or not Scutaro can play in St. Louis, he gave the Giants a much-needed boost in a game they needed to win. These Cardinals proudly wear a "2011 World Series Champions" patch on the left shoulders of their uniforms. They were never going to be an easy out. But evening up the series makes it a little easier, with a little thanks to Holliday.
He may have broken up a double play. He may also have slammed the Giants into a different gear.