When we look back on the 2012 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers many years from now, we're going to see that Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval was the MVP of the series.
Kung Fu Panda earned it. He hit three home runs in Game 1 of the series at AT&T Park, and he ended up hitting an even .500 (8-for-16) with a 1.654 OPS when all was said and done.
But it was not Sandoval who clinched the World Series for the Giants. It was Marco Scutaro who did the honors.
With Game 4 tied at 3-3 in the top of the 10th inning, Scutaro lined a base hit to center field to score Ryan Theriot with the go-ahead run. It proved to be the dagger when Sergio Romo came in and struck out the side in the bottom of the inning, and just like that the Giants had their second World Series championship in the last three years.
They couldn't have done it without Scutaro. Sandoval may have been named the MVP of the World Series, but there's no question that Scutaro was the Giants' MVP for the postseason as a whole. He took his place alongside the all-time greats in Giants postseason lore.
Giants fans won't be the only ones who remember Scutaro for what he did in the 2012 postseason. Like David Freese in 2011, Scutaro took this year's postseason and made it his own. Along the way, he accumulated a great many fans and admirers.
And for good reason. Baseball fans love a good bedtime story, and Scutaro's heroics will go down in history as the signature bedtime story of the 2012 postseason.
Here are five reasons why.
5. ALL OF THE NUMBERS!
You can't be a postseason hero without gaudy numbers, and Scutaro definitely racked up some shiny statistics in the 16 games it took for the Giants to win it all.
In the end, Scutaro posted a triple-slash line of .328/.377/.391 in the playoffs. He scored 11 runs and collected eight RBI.
Those numbers are good enough at first glance, but anyone who was watching Scutaro in the postseason will get the sense that something is missing. There's something about those numbers that doesn't quite tell the whole story.
This is because Scutaro's story didn't really begin until after the Giants got past the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Division Series. He didn't put on his cape until the Giants clashed with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
In the seven games the Giants played against the Cardinals in the NLCS, Scutaro was unstoppable. He collected at least two hits in all but one of the games, eventually compiling a triple-slash line of .500/.533/.607 with six runs scored and four RBI.
Scutaro then collected two more hits, two more runs scored and two more RBI in the first game of the World Series. At that point, he was a .500/.529/.594 hitter with eight runs scored and six RBI in eight games.
For what it's worth, that kind of production spaced out over a full season would have seen Scutaro score 162 runs and rack up 122 RBI. He was basically an uber-version of Mike Trout in that eight-game span.
Scutaro did cool down in Games 2 and 3 of the World Series, as Tigers pitchers held him hitless in eight at-bats with a pair of strikeouts. They managed to do the seemingly impossibly by making Scutaro a non-factor.
And then he came back in Game 4 with a pair of hits, the second of which put an exclamation point at the end of his postseason saga.
4. He Got the Series-Clinching Hit in the World Series, Because of Course He Did
Bill Mazeroski in 1960.
Joe Carter in 1993.
Luis Gonzalez in 2001.
Marco Scutaro in 2012.
Yeah, sounds about right. The list of players who clinched a championship for their teams with clutch hits is quite short, but it certainly got a new addition on Sunday night.
Maybe the only thing that separates Scutaro's World Series-clinching hit in Game 4 from all the other great Fall Classic clinchers is the fact that everyone and their uncle could see it coming from a mile away.
When Scutaro strode to the dish on Sunday night to face Phil Coke with the go-ahead run on second, everyone was thinking the same thing:
The fate of the World Series has a way of ending up in the hands of heroes, so it made perfect sense that Scutaro would find himself at the plate with a chance to win it for the Giants. The moment had the fingerprints of the baseball gods all over it.
So did Scutaro's hit itself, which came on a high and outside fastball that probably would have been ball four if Scutaro had let it go by. Instead, he squared it up and dropped it in front of Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson, a man who covers about as much ground as a Harrier jet.
It was meant to be, and everyone knew it.
In the words of Bob Nightengale of USA Today:
Who else, but Marco SCutaro, once again for #SFGiants— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 29, 2012
In the words of Brian Murphy of KNBR 680 in San Francisco:
And in the words of Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:
Marco Scutaro never swings and misses. That was the sweetest connection of his career.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 29, 2012
Sweetest connection of his career indeed, and the journey toward it is just as fascinating as the result itself.
3. He. Would. Not. Be. Denied.
As recently as late July, Scutaro had no chance of even sniffing the World Series in 2012. He was wasting away as a member of the Colorado Rockies, who found themselves sitting on a record of 37-61 after a 3-0 loss to the Reds on July 27.
At that point in time, Scutaro was probably just content to know that he was at least being spared from the mess that was unfolding in Boston. The Red Sox had traded Scutaro to the Rockies during the offseason, thus removing him from Bobby Valentine's warpath well before anybody knew just how bad things were going to get.
As it turned out, that shutout loss to the Reds was Scutaro's last game in a Rockies uniform. He was dealt to the Giants for minor league infielder Charlie Culberson in the dead of night.
The trade barely moved any needles. In fact, there were probably plenty of people who were surprised to see Scutaro suiting up for the Giants the next day. A few more were probably scratching their heads wondering where Scutaro was playing before he was suiting up for the Giants. Did they have him stashed down in the minors all that time?
Scutaro's back story became a moot point pretty much immediately. He collected hits in eight of his first nine games as a Giant, and he ended up being one of the club's top hitters down the stretch. In 61 games, he hit .362/.385/.473 with 40 runs scored and 44 RBI.
Scutaro's determination to make the most of the opportunity he had been given did not end when the regular season ended. He kept the fire burning in the playoffs as well, and his determination didn't just show through every time he added to his considerable offensive numbers.
Before his series-clinching hit on Sunday night, the defining moment of Scutaro's postseason unfolded in Game 2 of the NLCS. Scutaro absorbed a hard takeout slide by Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday in the first inning that left him in some serious pain, but he stayed in the game long enough to deliver a crucial hit with the bases loaded in the fourth inning that sparked the Giants to a 7-1 victory.
What happened was essentially a case of Goliath hitting David with a sucker punch only to get a vicious haymaker to the jaw for his troubles. Scutaro's scrappy attitude wore off on his teammates too, and they ultimately used it to win the day.
And despite Holliday's best efforts to shatter Scutaro into a million pieces, he was back in the starting line for Game 3 of the series a couple days later. He wasn't about to let a little bit (or a lot in his case) of pain keep him from finishing what he started.
The Cardinals clearly messed with the wrong guy. Once Scutaro put on a Giants uniform, he basically became a Terminator. He took on all challengers down the stretch in the regular season, and then he made mincemeat of the Cardinals and, ultimately, the Tigers.
Through it all, though, Scutaro wasn't quite as cold and methodical as Arnold Schwarzenegger. On the contrary, he made the whole terminating thing out to be quite a fun ride.
2. Pure Joy, Pure Appreciation
It can be hard to remember that baseball is just a game that we all loved playing when we were kids. Fans are more cognizant of the business side of the game than ever before, and the stuff that goes on in front offices and ownership boxes oftentimes feels more important than the games themselves.
The players, too, have become more businesslike. For every eccentric ballplayer, there must be two or three wooden ballplayers. A lot of players just go about their business, and trying to find a ballplayer who doesn't speak in cliches is like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles.
Thank goodness for the Giants. They were a breath of fresh air when they won it all back in 2010, and they brought a fun-loving vibe to the table once again this year. They had fun, and it was just plain fun to watch them have fun (unless you owe your allegiance to the Tigers, of course).
Scutaro had as much fun as the next guy, but you could tell from his actions that there was a little more going on inside his head than just a simple desire to enjoy himself. For lack of a better word, I'd say he was wrapped up in the sheer profundity of what he was doing.
When the journey was over, Scutaro himself had a hard time finding the right words when Erin Andrews tried to interview him minutes after the final out had been recorded on Sunday night. The best message he could deliver was: "I don't even know what to say right now. We just won the World Series."
My advice to you is not to remember Scutaro's postseason by these words. Or any other words that he spoke, for that matter. The best message he delivered this postseason was not a series of words, but an image.
You probably know the one I'm talking about. It developed in Game 7 of the NLCS when a monsoon rolled into San Francisco and settled over AT&T Park just when the Giants were trying to close the Cardinals out in the ninth inning.
While everyone else at AT&T Park was growing anxious, Scutaro was raising his arms and trying to catch raindrops in his mouth. He was jubilation personified.
That's an image none of us are ever going to forget. At that very moment, it was abundantly apparent that Scutaro wasn't going to let anything make his life miserable. He was treating every second out on the field like it was a gift from the baseball gods.
And considering where he was coming from, it's not hard to see why every second on the field in these playoffs was so precious to Scutaro.
1. A True Underdog Story
Marco Scutaro is not a young man by baseball standards. He's going to turn 37 years old on Tuesday, meaning he probably only has two or three years left in him before he calls it a career.
When Scutaro does hang up his spikes for good, he'll have enjoyed a good run. He will not, however, have enjoyed the kind of long and prosperous career that the greats specialize in.
Some ballplayers are late bloomers, and the term definitely applies to Scutaro. He was first signed as an amateur free agent by the Cleveland Indians in 1994, and he didn't make it to the big leagues for nearly a decade. He was 26 years old when he made his major league debut in 2002.
Scutaro developed something of a cult following as a bench player for the Oakland A's between 2004 and 2007, but he didn't become an everyday player until he joined the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008.
He was 32 years old, middle-aged by baseball standards.
Scutaro went on to hit .282 with a .789 OPS in 2009, and that season ultimately earned him a two-year deal with the Boston Red Sox.
It was a good deal for them and he was a good player for the Red Sox in his two years in Boston, but they made it clear that Scutaro was just another expendable asset when they shipped him off to Colorado in January. All the Red Sox got in return for him was mediocre pitcher Clayton Mortensen.
Had he stayed in Colorado throughout the entire 2012 season, Scutaro would have languished in obscurity. When the season ended, his goal for the offseason was going to be to find a team willing to take him on as a starter, but he probably would have had to settle for a role as a utility infielder. He would have taken the best job he could get.
Baseball fans get caught up in worshiping star players, but this is life for about 99 percent of the ballplayers at the various levels of Major League Baseball. A lot of ballplayers are lucky to get a shot in the first place, and they're even luckier if they manage to bounce around from place to place for more than a few years.
For these guys, the baseball life is not about making hundreds of millions of dollars and seeking rings so they can add to their legacies. The vast majority of players who come through the league are just looking to make a nice living. Beyond that, they'll take what they can get.
Up until he joined the Giants, Scutaro may as well have been a poster boy for these guys. He was not a star by any stretch of the imagination. In many ways, he was just another grunt trying to earn an honest living.
He was lucky enough to get a chance to make a legend out of himself for a few short weeks, and it's fair to say that he made the most of it.
Stories like Scutaro's are why we love baseball. It's a sport played by titans, and on most days they own the playing field. But every once in a while, a little guy appears and shows that he belongs.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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