SAN FRANCISCO -- There are few sights more harrowing for a Giants fan than the image of Prince Fielder's 275-pound frame bearing down on their catcher.
For the third time in his career, Fielder found himself charging hard toward a home plate protected by a backstop in Orange and Black, and for the second consecutive time, he was out.
In the second inning of the Giants' 2-0 win over the Tigers in Game 2 of the World Series, Detroit looked to be setting up a big inning when Delmon Young followed a leadoff hit batsman with a double into the left field corner. But Tigers third-base coach Gene Lamont, paying close attention, tried to capitalize on a funky bounce off the wall.
"I thought he would score, to be honest, the way it carried off the wall," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after the game. "It took two perfect throws to get him."
It looked like Fielder would score easily when Gregor Blanco's throw sailed over the head of lead cutoff-man Brandon Crawford. But in the most instinctual defensive play since Derek Jeter's "Flip Play" in Game 5 of the 2001 ALDS, 2012 NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro found himself in perfect position to receive the throw from Blanco and complete the relay to Buster Posey to cut down the potential go-ahead run in a bang-bang play at the plate.
"What was Scutaro doing there?" Blanco asked after the game. "I was throwing to Crawford. I don't know what he was doing, but he was there."
Scutaro made it all the way across the diamond from deep second base to trail Crawford tight along the third-base line. He broke for third as soon as he saw the ball get past third baseman Pablo Sandoval, explaining his actions after the game like it was the most natural play of the season.
"That's what you work on in spring training," Scutaro said, dismissing his role in the play.
Never mind that Scutaro has never spent a spring training with the Giants, the 11-year veteran knew where he had to be.
"When it went over my head," Crawford said, "I was thinking, 'I hope Marco's there.' 'Cause I had no chance of catching it. But it was right to him."
Scutaro, who acknowledged the thought of a potential collision between Fielder and Posey flashed through his mind after he let the ball go, saw the play through a simpler lens.
"I just tried to throw the ball to home," he said.
He put it right on the money, and he gave Posey a chance to show off the swipe-tag skills that Bochy and the Giants coaching staff have been encouraging their young catcher to use.
Instead of taking a 1-0 lead and bringing up Jhonny Peralta with no outs and a runner on second, the Tigers sent Peralta to the plate in a tie game with one out and Young on second. Madison Bumgarner achieved his 10th consecutive scoreless World Series inning when he got a fly out and a strikeout to escape the frame.
In the Giants 13 previous playoff games, the team that scored first enjoyed an 11-2 record. The Giants eventually scored the first run in the seventh inning, and they won, advancing their playoff record to 8-1 when pushing across the game's first tally.
It's easy to say, now, that Fielder should have been held at third, but few were surprised when Lamont waved him home.
"I felt like, when the ball took that funny bounce, they might send him," Posey said. Crawford and Scutaro said they could tell Fielder was going home by the reaction of the sold-out AT&T Park crowd -- 42,582 strong.
It turned out to be the biggest play of the game, and the Tigers' best scoring opportunity.
"I'm okay with him sending me there," Fielder reflected. But his manager shared a different perspective.
"I think Gene just got a little overaggressive," Jim Leyland said.
If Fielder beat the throw, like he thought, there would be little debate over the decision.
"I didn't feel the tag," Fielder said. "I thought I was able to get in there."
Replays revealed home plate umpire Dan Iassogna got the call right, impressive given the magnitude of the game, the developing pitcher's duel and the speed of the play.
Posey joined Eli Whiteside and Todd Greene as San Francisco catchers who have met Fielder in the dirt circle around home plate, and Posey handled the the play with his customary aplomb, despite his collision history.
"You want to try to make sure you are light on your feet," Posey said. "You have to be there to know what it's like."
Whiteside isn't on the Giants' World Series roster, but he knows what it's like -- he stood between Fielder and home plate in 2011 and lived to tell the tale.
"Buster did a good job," Whiteside said Thursday night. "He gave him the plate. He gave him something to slide to. That's what you want to do, give the guy something to slide to and take (contact) out of the equation.
"That's a big man coming at you."
Following his own play at the plate with Fielder, Whiteside acknowledged he played the role of the aggressor.
"Hes coming at you," Whiteside said in 2011. "Theres no rule in the book that says you cant take it to him."
While it worked for Whiteside, it's certainly not the course of action the Giants coaching staff wants to see from Posey. Posey did just what he was asked to do, as Fielder verified.
"He gave me the plate," Fielder explained. "Whenever that happens, you gotta make the slide."
In 2006 Fielder didn't make the slide. He planted his shoulder square in the face of Giants catcher Todd Greene, sending him sprawling to the ground with a mild concussion and a busted shoulder. It essentially ended Greene's career, as the catcher retired after that '06 season.
In 2009 Fielder hit a game-winning home against the Giants and took his sweet time untucking his jersey on a drawn-out home run trot that culminated in the infamous "bowling pin" celebration.
But those plays, while aggravating for Giants fans, are history -- water under the Golden Gate Bridge.
"That's old," Fielder said. "I'm an adult now."
An adult whose team trails in the World Series two games to zero, and all because of a perfect little relay.
"It's all about executing," Bochy said. "And tonight we did a great job of it."
If Bochy can coach his players through two more wins before four losses, it'll all be about ticker tape, and Scutaro will again find himself in the right place -- leading a parade down Market Street.