SAN FRANCISCO The next time you see Marco Scutaro swingand miss, take stock of the moment. Etch it in your memory. Then understand youarent likely to see it again soon.
Entering Friday nights huge showdown with the Los AngelesDodgers, Scutaro had made contact on 94 percent of strikes thrown to him thisseason. If that sounds exceptionally high, it is.
It leads the major leagues.
Josh Hamilton swings and misses at 31 percent of strikesthrown to him. Even a hitter with such refined skills as Buster Posey swingsand misses at 11 percent of the strikes he sees.
But Scutaro is in another universe. If the ball is anywherebetween the chest and the hollow of the kneecap, and is over any portion of thedish, Scutaro will find a way to put his bat on it.
That is a handy skill for a No. 2 hitter. It gives Giantsmanager Bruce Bochy supreme confidence to put runners in motion. Unless its apitchout, Scutaro will probably advance the runner -- or better yet, move himfrom first to third with one of those flares to right field.
Tim Lincecum might have said it best:
Well, I know I didnt like facing him, he said.
Scutaro smiled when that comment was relayed to him.
I didnt like facing him, either, he said.
When the Giants acquired Scutaro from the Colorado Rockieson July 27, he was a 35-year-old hitting .271 with an unimpressive .684 OPS. Hewas on pace to hit five home runs and drive in fewer than 60. But the Giantskept asking about him; Im told they had asked the Boston Red Sox about tradingfor him over the offseason, too.
Finally, a week ahead of the trade deadline, the Rockiescalled the Giants with a list of names. Scutaro was on it.
The Giants tried not to give away their excitement.
The Rockies only asked for minor leaguer Charlie Culberson,who had long ago lost his shine as a top prospect. Colorado even kicked in500,000 to cover some of the roughly 2 million remaining on Scutaroscontract.
The Giants didnt have to take any high-priced dead weight,as the Dodgers did.
It just goes to show that value doesnt always lie in theritziest players. Not only has Scutaro been a perfect addition for Bochyskeep the line moving offense, but hes come up with some huge hits withrunners on base. You could make the argument that Scutaros approach has rubbedoff on some of his teammates, especially when you think back to the first halfand consider the Giants woeful .225 average with runners in scoring positionprior to the break.
They were 4-for-11 with RISP in a well played, 5-2 victoryover the Dodgers on a rowdy Orange Friday at AT&T Park. And Scutaro, ofcourse, collected the two-out, two-run, tiebreaking single in the seventhinning.
Theyre hitting .311 with RISP since the All-Star break --the best in the majors.
It comes down to making more contact with runners on base,and Scutaro has the stats to prove it: nobody in the major leagues is better atputting the bat on the ball.
Seeing as second base is a wide-open proposition for 2013, it wouldn't be surprising to see Scutaro return on a two-year contract.
There was no crowing in the Giants clubhouse, even thoughtheir 5 12game lead is their largest in the NL West since the final game ofthe 2003 season. (Coincidental note: The pitcher they faced in Game 1 of theNLDS vs. Florida that season, Josh Beckett, was on the mound for the Dodgers Fridaynight.)
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But Scutaro was among several players who noted that theydlove to clinch before setting foot in Dodger Stadium for those final threeregular-season games.
We dont want to go back there those last three games andbe close, Scutaro said.
Added Sergio Romo: Wed like to not necessarily put ourfeet up, because you never can in this game, but wed like to have an idea whatsgoing to happen. It happens so seldom in this game, but thats what we want.
Brandon Crawford had another solid game on both ends, twicegetting on base and scoring runs from second base on singles. But Joaquin Ariaswill be at shortstop against left-hander Chris Capuano on Saturday, Bochy said.
Prior to the game, Bochy said he planned to move bodies inthe late innings and he accomplished it without wasting an extra player. AfterGregor Blanco pinch-ran for Hector Sanchez, Bochy put Blanco in left field,moved Brandon Belt from left to first base and stuck Buster Posey behind theplate.
Blanco stole a base and scored the tiebreaking run, and theGiants improved their defense in at least two spots without going to the bench.All in all, not bad.
Santiago Casilla is recharged and has become a late-inningweapon again. As mentioned in the slideshow I filed earlier today, the Giantsbullpen had struggled against the Dodgers while posting a 5.97 ERA in 12 games.Its on nights like Friday that a closer by committee is really tested. Casillaand Romo made the pitches to nail down a seismic victory.