If you want to find a turning point in game two of the NLCS, look no further than the top of the first inning. Maybe it wasn’t really a turning point. Maybe it was a starting point.
With Matt Holliday on first and one out, Allen Craig hit a slow chopper to Brandon Crawford. Crawford fielded it and quickly threw to second to get the force. Holliday waited to start his slide until he was on top of the bag, rolling into Scutaro with momentum. He was out of control, so out of control that the takeout part of the slide was made by his chest. He overslid his overslide.
It was in no way a clean slide. While I don’t think he wanted to hurt Scutaro, it was a reckless play and even if the intent wasn’t dirty, the play was still dirty. For some reason, Scutaro’s stance at second was closed off like he was just looking to secure the force and it wasn’t until the last second that he decided to try to get the runner at first. He didn’t peak at Holliday coming in hard. He pivoted to throw and left himself wide open. I don’t say that to blame Scutaro. But he does have a responsibility to protect himself. Had he either opened up his stance while taking Crawford’s throw or been happy with the force at second, he would’ve seen Holliday coming and could’ve avoided some of the damage.
Scutaro would stay down for a bit while trying to figure out how badly he was hurt. In game two of the Yankees vs. Tigers ALCS, Derek Jeter broke his ankle trying to field a ground ball. It was the first thing I thought about when I saw Scutaro on the ground. Scutaro has been an underrated star for the Giants this season. His .362/.385/.473 line in 61 games with the Giants immediately made the top of the lineup much better, giving the Giants someone else to get on base in front of Buster Posey.
He got up and stretched it out, showing a sort of toughness relegated to football players. As if the Giants needed any more reason to be fired up, Holliday gave them something extra. Angel Pagan hit his second leadoff homerun of the playoffs off Chris Carpenter to open up the Giants half of the first. Scutaro hit a single right after Pagan’s homerun as if to show the Cardinals that he wasn’t going anywhere.In the fourth inning, the Giants would open the game up. Brandon Belt flared a double to left and he moved to third on Gregor Blanco’s chopping single. After Carpenter’s error on Brandon Crawford’s nubber scored Belt, Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong sacrificed both runners. Angel Pagan then walked, bringing up Scutaro with the bases loaded. Scutaro ripped a single into left-center, and in a bit of baseball poetic justice Holliday muffed it and all three base runners scored. The Giants were up 5-1, AT&T Park was rocking hard, and the Cardinals would only get two more hits the rest of the way.
If Scutaro’s toughness pumped the Giants up, Ryan Vogelsong’s outing gave the team the shot in the arm they needed. On a team built on starting pitching, the Giants starting pitching has been disappointing in the playoffs so far. Vogelsong had the only outing that you could call good in the divisional series against the Reds, throwing five innings of shutout ball.
He saved his best (so far) for the NLCS. Vogelsong used his fastball brilliantly, moving it inside and out, keeping Cardinals hitters off-stride. He gave up just one run and it was on a gimme double to Carpenter after walking eight hitter Pete Kozma. He threw a get-me-over fastball and Carpenter put a charge into it to score the Cards’ only run in the second. Vogelsong finished the night throwing seven strong innings, giving up just four hits, the one run, and striking out four.
The series moves to St. Louis where the Cards were 50-31 in the regular season, tied with many for the best home record in the league. The Giants were tied for third best in baseball with a 46-35 road record. On Wednesday, it’s Matt Cain vs. Kyle Lohse. Thanks to Matt Holliday, the Giants have the momentum. But if Scutaro is hurt and can’t play, that momentum may very well go back to the Cards. But this series became personal. And if you don’t think these teams have a violent history between them, think again.