The San Francisco Giants didn't need extra motivation to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. They knew the series would be shifting to St. Louis for Game 3, and they wanted to make sure things were all even at a game apiece before it did.
Perhaps just to make things a little more interesting, the Cardinals gave the Giants a little extra motivation anyway.
We all saw what happened at second base in the top of the first inning at AT&T Park on Monday night. Allen Craig bounced a tailor-made double-play ball to Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, but Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday broke up the would-be twin killing with a hard slide into second baseman Marco Scutaro.
It was a very hard slide.
Like, hard enough to be well past the point of it being a "dirty" slide.
There's really no arguing that Holliday's slide wasn't dirty. It's true that going hard into second base is perfectly within the rules, but there has to be some sort of pretense that the runner is just going hard into the bag.
A runner going out of his way to upend the fielder at the base is a no-no. A runner going out of his way to crush the fielder is a huge no-no.
And Holliday did go out of his way to crush Scutaro, not starting his slide until he was at the second base bag and then hurling his body at Scutaro's legs.
Holliday may not have had it in his mind to injure Scutaro, but he should have known that his linebacker-esque frame was going to do some damage if it actually made contact with Scutaro's wheels.
And it did, of course. Scutaro stayed in the game long enough to get his revenge in the form of a bases-loaded single that gave the Giants three runs thanks to a misplay by none other than Holliday in left field.
He eventually left the game to go get himself checked out, but his single loomed large in a game that the Giants eventually won by the final of 7-1.
Fortunately for the Giants, Scutaro is OK. According to Henry Sculman of the San Francisco Chronicle, X-rays taken o Scutaro's left hip turned up negative, meaning he could be in the lineup for Game 3 of the series on Wednesday.
If so, there will be no need for payback. If Scutaro takes the field on Wednesday, it will be like nothing ever happened.
But something most certainly did happen, and now the question becomes whether the Giants or the Cardinals will be entirely willing to let it go. The narrative of the series has been changed, and the next chapter could very well see bloodshed.
The operative word here is "could." Technically, a UFO could land in center field in Game 3 and abduct Angel Pagan. The baseball gods could descend from the heavens and steal Holliday's hat right off his head as a form of payback. Or just for funsies. Anything could happen.
Whether some sort of violence will happen is going to be up to the Giants. They got back at the Cardinals for Holliday's slide by putting seven runs on the board and evening the series, but they didn't respond by drilling Holliday at the plate or by going after one of St. Louis' own infielders on the basepaths. The Giants got angry, but they haven't necessarily gotten even yet.
If the Giants are ticked off enough, they will get even. And from the sound of things, they were pretty ticked off on Monday night.
"Somebody said, after that play happened, 'That's just gonna [tick] us off,'" said Giants veteran Aubrey Huff, via Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. "And sure enough. We scored four runs there [in the fourth inning]. And it looked like we played with a little more edge after that."
Even Hunter Pence, a man who doesn't need an excuse to have more energy coursing through his veins these days, was fired up by the play.
As for the man in charge of the Giants, Bochy said point-blank that he thinks the Cardinals got away with a dirty play.
“I really think they got away with an illegal slide there,” he said after Game 2.
Are we hearing the rumors of war in these comments? Are the Giants planning some sort of attack? For that matter, will the Cardinals strike preemptively if they think the Giants are planning some sort of attack?
Hmmm...let's see here. I'll go with no, no and no.
The Giants talked about how the play fired them up, but there was also a clear "no-hard-feelings" sentiment to some of their postgame comments. It helps that they won the game and that Scutaro isn't seriously injured, but there's also no real hatred for Holliday for what he did.
“There’s no bad feeling or anything—just one of those plays where baseball happened,” said righty reliever Sergio Romo. “He plays hard, he was trying to win for his team, so you can’t fault him for that.”
Hunter Pence agreed: "You know Holliday, I don’t think he’s trying to hurt someone. He’s playing the game hard and those things happen."
Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote something very much akin to "You know Holliday," pointing out that the brawny left fielder is not the most coordinated player under the sun. Given his size and utter inability to play the game with any finesse, it's no wonder Holliday "is a bull in a china shop when it comes to baseball aesthetics."
Even Holliday himself stopped justifying his slide to a certain extent.
"In hindsight, I wish I'd started my slide a step earlier," he said. "But it's happening fast. And you're trying to get to his lower half so he can't turn the double play. I wish I didn't land on top of him."
When Holliday was asked if the extra energy that goes hand in hand with the postseason was a factor in the play, he admitted that it was.
However, he also pointed out that he had been doing the same thing at second base on potential double plays all season. This particular play did some damage to Scutaro, but Holliday said there was "no ill intent."
Holliday wasn't just regretful in speaking to the media after the game, either. He said he gave Scutaro his best wishes through Giants catcher Buster Posey the next time he came to bat in the third inning.
"Tell Marco I should have started my slide a step earlier," Holliday said he told Posey. "I hope he's OK. Obviously I wasn't trying to hurt him."
Granted, even here you can ask whether Holliday was really being sincere or if he was just telling Posey something he wanted to hear. How do we know for sure that Holliday wasn't just blowing smoke?
How about a testimony from a former teammate?
"I know Matt Holliday very, very well. He's a good friend of mine. He's not a malicious person…I saw him running off, and I played with Matt, so I can kind of read his facial expressions pretty good, and I could tell he felt bad," said Giants lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt.
Behind every violent baseball play is a guy who may or may not be violent. In the case of Holliday, there's enough floating around out there to suggest that he's not a violent man. He's just a very big man who made a slight miscalculation. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.
But even if the Giants are willing to give Holliday the benefit of the doubt, are he or any of his teammates safe from the Giants' wrath?
Of course not. If the Giants feel that they need to send a message, they're not going to allow their sympathy for Holliday, such as it is, to get in the way. He may still yet get plunked in the ribs. One of the club's infielders may still yet get pulverized by a Giants baserunner.
Here's the thing, though. The postseason may be a time for going the extra mile on the basepaths and in other aspects of the game, but it's a pretty lousy time to go out of your way to get revenge. Winning games is the No. 1 priority, and petty things like revenge have a way of making it tough to win games.
For example, plunking Holliday wouldn't be very good idea because that would mean a free baserunner for a Cardinals team that features plenty of thump in its lineup.
Even if the Giants have a comfortable lead, a Holliday HBP could lead to a two-run homer that would make the lead considerably less comfortable. More bad things could transpire.
Going hard into a Cardinals infielder doesn't carry the same kind of risk, but it's something that could still end up being a regrettable incident for the Giants.
Holliday ticked the Giants off when he went sliding into Scutaro's legs on Monday night, and the Giants responded by winning the game. If the Giants respond in kind by taking out a Cardinals infielder, they could find the tables turning on them.
You can think back to the 2003 ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. That was the series in which Pedro Martinez threw a pitch at Karim Garcia's head and wrestled Don Zimmer to the ground in Game 3, inciting all sorts of bad blood and headline fodder.
The Red Sox lost Game 3, and went on to lose the series. The bad blood didn't do them any good.
Regardless of how they go about getting it, revenge therefore isn't necessarily in the Giants' best interest. They could end up shooting themselves in the foot, and they'd also be going out on a limb that the Cardinals wouldn't want their own revenge after the Giants get theirs. They may not be willing to call it even.
If the Giants want to punish the Cardinals for Holliday's slide, the best thing they can do is beat the Cardinals again.
Likewise, if the Cardinals want to defend their honor after what happened on Monday night, the best thing they can do is fight back and beat the Giants to take a lead in the series.
A beanball war or a benches-clearing brawl would certainly make for great headlines and writing fodder, but I doubt we're going to see anything like that because both the Giants and the Cardinals know that now is not the time for war games. Now is the time for baseball, and nothing else.
And why shouldn't they just play baseball? The slide happened. The Giants won. Scutaro will live. Holliday was remorseful. The Giants don't hate him. Both clubs only care about going to the World Series.
So play ball.
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