Scutaro brings intangible value to Giants
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One of the enduring scenes of the 2012 season came when Marco Scutaro looked skyward as a hard rain fell on San Francisco's AT&T Park -- and the exiting St. Louis Cardinals -- in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
This 9-0 triumph had Scutaro and his Giants on their way to a World Series they would sweep against the Tigers. The elation in the eyes of this journeyman infielder from Venezuela was unforgettable. Sometimes pictures capture more than a thousand words.
In the afterglow of enriching his sixth Major League team on its championship journey, Scutaro in any other uniform in 2013 simply would not have felt right. He was critical to the Giants' fabric. The organization recognized this Tuesday night in reaching agreement with him on a three-year, $20 million contract that looks like the steal of the free-agent season from here.
Three years might be viewed as risky for a player who will play the 2013 season at 37. But this is a man who takes great care of himself and plays with intelligent aggression. Judged against other contracts surfacing in free agency, Scutaro's deal makes perfect sense.
In fact, three of the best contracts this offseason have been reached by the World Series combatants. The Tigers acquired Torii Hunter's production and leadership for two years at $26 million. Now the Giants have retained Scutaro and leadoff man Angel Pagan, the center fielder agreeing to a four-year, $40 million deal.
Scutaro is similar to Hunter in intangible character qualities, which simply can't be measured by cold, hard numbers.
"He was valuable to us in so many ways," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Wednesday. "He performed at an incredibly high level and gave us toughness."
It created scarcely a ripple in the national media when San Francisco landed Scutaro in a deal with Colorado on July 27, parting with 23-year-old second-base prospect Charlie Culberson.
Scutaro had seven hits in his first five games, but the Giants remained in a midseason slumber that had them in a virtual dead heat with the Dodgers in the National League West.
When the Giants lost All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera, hitting .346, to a 50-game performance-enhancing-drug suspension on Aug. 14, their offense took what many assumed would be a fatal hit. This was when Scutaro, the No. 2 hitter, began delivering repeatedly in clutch situations to lift his team and fan base.
"We've been looking at Scutaro," teammate Xavier Nady said, "and saying he's the best hitter we've ever seen, all the things he can do with a bat."
Scutaro hit .362 with 44 RBIs and 40 runs in 61 games in a Giants uniform. He was deadly, along with Pagan and Pablo Sandoval at the top of the order, in a three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium from Aug. 20-22 that gave the Giants the division lead for keeps.
The trio combined to go 16-for-34, scoring 10 runs -- four more than the Dodgers team -- and driving in seven in the series. Scutaro had two hits in each of the three games and played sensational defense.
"That was a huge series for us," Bochy said, "coming after the Melky suspension the way it did."
With the top third hitting on all cylinders, the Giants went 30-15 without Cabrera and cruised to the NL West title.
The dynamic continued through the postseason. Scutaro was the NLCS MVP with 14 hits, and Sandoval, powering three homers in the opener, was the World Series MVP.
Scutaro also developed a bond with gifted young shortstop Brandon Crawford, solidifying the heart of the infield.
Keeping the three linchpins atop the order intact was a priority for the Giants. Pagan's deal looked even better when the Red Sox awarded Shane Victorino $39 million across three years.
One of the side benefits of retaining Scutaro is his positive influence on Sandoval, who has been known to add excess poundage to his compact frame. The Giants see how the irrepressible "Kung Fu Panda" responds to the earnest Scutaro, who is among the most respected of the Venezuelan players within their fraternity.
Unimposing physically at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Scutaro has an inner toughness that can't be taught -- but can be transmitted to teammates.
He showed his resilience and resistance to pain in the aftermath of a takeout, football style, at second base by the Cardinals' Matt Holliday in the first inning of Game 2 of the NLCS. Scutaro left five innings later, but his tenacity was conveyed to teammates, who carried it through the contentious series.
"It could have been really bad -- broken leg, broken knee," Scutaro said. "It could have had me out two years. But nothing really happened. I'm happy -- not because of that play, because of the way our team responded."
Those words will stand as a definition of leadership until something better comes along.
Scutaro hit .328 with 11 runs and eight RBIs in 16 postseason games.
Standing in the rain that Oct. 22 night in San Francisco, the Giants about to wrap up that NLCS Game 7 decision, Scutaro let the waves of emotion roll over him.
"A lot of things were going through my mind," he said. "Anybody who gets this far, it's a special feeling. I've played a long time, and I'm in a World Series. I've been traded twice this year. It's kind of crazy, you know?"
Six nights later, in the numbing cold of Detroit, Scutaro would be on the field for another final out in Game 4 of the World Series.
"Blessed," Scutaro said, simply, when asked what it felt like to be a champion -- and overnight sensation -- in his 11th season in the Major Leagues.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.