DETROIT Before Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro gathered his record-tying 14th hit in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the NLCS, and before he singled to begin the third-inning deluge that the Giants used to capture the game and pennant, he hit a timely, picture-perfect line drive to right-center field.
In the first inning of a scoreless game, Angel Pagan singled to lead off against the St. Louis Cardinals' Kyle Lohse. Then, on a 2-1 count, the Giants set Pagan in motion, and as second baseman Daniel Descalso broke for the bag, Scutaro reached out and lined a slider over the vacated area into the outfield.
Pagan sped into third base and scored on Pablo Sandoval's groundout, drawing first blood in a do-or-die game. That Scutaro at the very least put the ball in play should not have been surprising he was the hardest player to strike out in baseball during the season and, according to the Giants, swung and missed at a pitch 15 times in the 61 games he played for them.
"He's just so quiet," said fellow second baseman Ryan Theriot. "I think that's a good way to describe everything that he does with his stance, with his swing. He's not trying to do too much, rarely gets fooled, rarely swings and misses, basically just takes what the pitcher gives him, which is a recipe for success."
Indeed, you could almost hear a collective gasp go up at AT&T Park on Thursday night as Scutaro took a called third strike from Tigers reliever Drew Smyly. Scutaro himself spun away from the plate and smacked his bat in disgust. It was just the third time he has struck out since Sept. 14. During the season, he struck out once every 13.9 at-bats.
"It's coordination and it's calmness," said Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens. "He's never anxious to hit. He can take two strikes and go hit and still know he's going to put the ball in play. All those things make for a really short stroke, compact and flat."
"I mean," Theriot said, "you're teaching a kid how to hit, that's how you would teach him how to hit. These last 2 1/2 months have been really impressive."
Scutaro's 14-for-28 performance in the National League Championship Series, which earned him MVP honors, is fresh in the collective mind as the World Series resumes tonight with the Giants up 2-0. But his has been a steady impact since the Giants acquired him July 27 from the Colorado Rockies, largely to fill a void left by the then-injured Sandoval.
The 36-year-old infielder, playing for his sixth major league team since breaking in with the New York Mets in 2004, hit .362 with 44 RBIs in 61 regular-season games with the Giants. He was batting .271 at the time of the trade. In 49 games with Scutaro hitting second in the lineup, the Giants went 34-15.
"We all knew he was a good all-around baseball player," general manager Brian Sabean said. "But to say that we expected him to be this outstanding and this clutch, no. He really caught fire, he's been a go-to guy in the second spot."
Manager Bruce Bochy said Scutaro has the "ability to maneuver the ball very well, which helps when you want to hit-and-run or bunt," as in Game 7 against the Cardinals. Bochy said he also thinks Scutaro's patience has rubbed off on some of the team's freer swingers, such as Sandoval and outfielder Hunter Pence.
Scutaro went hitless in just nine games with the Giants this season. Until his 0 for 4 in Game 2 of the World Series, he had hit safely in 11 playoff games in a row, regularity from a player who said Friday, "I think that's the hardest part of hitting, trying to be consistent every day.
"Hitting's so hard, nobody's going to guarantee that you're going to have a good year at the plate," Scutaro said. "For some reason, you lose your mechanics, your timing. Hitting is a feeling, and sometimes it goes away and takes a while, comes back. Other times you find the feeling, it stays longer. It's hard to explain."
Scutaro said he is constantly discussing hitting with Meulens and others, looking for insight. In developing his swing, which is more puncture wound than slash, Scutaro said, "I was just looking for adjustments in my mechanics to be shorter to the ball, day in and day out."
Asked how he would describe his swing, then, his response was fitting.
"Simple," he said.