SAN FRANCISCO — Marco Scutaro is no castoff or misfit. Not even close.
It just so happens he is having a major impact as part of San Francisco’s run into the playoffs — the 2012 version of Cody Ross, if you will. Scutaro does it all: reliable defense, timely hitting, mentoring of younger teammates.
The Giants plucked Ross off waivers in August two years ago and watched him capture MVP honors in the NL championship series and help lead them to that long-awaited first World Series title since moving West in 1958. He was one of those “castoffs and misfits” as manager Bruce Bochy referred to them.
The well-traveled Scutaro is another late addition by general manager Brian Sabean to pay huge dividends down the stretch for the NL West champions. The 36-year-old infielder is headed back to the postseason for the first time since his 2006 Oakland Athletics team got swept by the Tigers in the AL championship series.
“It’s been fun. It’s been great,” Scutaro said. “It’s been a good situation. It’s always fun to win. Just to have the opportunity to be in the playoffs, that’s a lot. Just not for me, for any player. We all prepare hard, we work hard in the offseason to have the opportunity to be in this situation, to be in the playoffs. It’s priceless to get this opportunity.”
There’s no question Scutaro is among the best mid-season pickups of the summer.
“He’s definitely up there. If he’s not the best, he’s amongst the top two,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “It seems like he doesn’t ever get out. He’s even better when he has two strikes on him, which is awesome.”
Not only does Scutaro have an uncanny knack for clutch hits, the utility infielder filled an enormous need at second base and in the No. 2 hole. He delivered with three hits and three RBIs in an 8-4 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night as the Giants clinched their second division crown in three years.
“You know what his nickname is? They call him ‘Blockbuster,’” Giants CEO Larry Baer said. “He’s been amazing.”
Blockbuster is a bit of a not-so-inside joke, a reference to the relative bargain Scutaro represents for as much as he has contributed in a mere two months to put the Giants back in prime position for another special “Orange October,” as they have taken to calling the playoffs.
“He’s been unbelievable,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “Everything he swings at, it seems like it’s a base hit. He’s a professional hitter. He takes pitches that he doesn’t like and swings at good pitches, and doesn’t swing through anything. He’s fun to watch.”
Scutaro has hits in 44 of his 53 games since the Giants acquired him from the Colorado Rockies on July 27. He is batting .304 overall with a career-high 68 RBIs — .361 with 38 RBIs and a team-best 78 hits since joining San Francisco.
The Giants took on just $2.1 million of Scutaro’s salary, and he has more than made it worthwhile. Especially when compared to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ spending spree to move much of the Red Sox roster across the country.
“I’ll tell you an interesting story. When I called Colorado and finalized the deal and talked to (GM) Dan O’Dowd, he raved about this guy,” Sabean said. “We did a lot of work on him but as far as the offensive output, we’re probably all surprised at the relative consistency. This guy’s known around the league. If you watch his at-bats, they’re incredibly professional. He’s got a nose for an RBI. Colorado knew what they were losing and I actually thanked Dan for allowing us to make the trade within the division — very fortunate to happen.”
Scutaro, who also has matched his career-best hitting streak of 12 games, has certainly done his part to earn himself a nice pay day moving forward. He can become a free agent after the season.
“I take a lot of pride in my hitting, because for me that’s the tougher thing to do,” he said. “You just try to go out there and not give any at-bats away. It’s easy to say and hard to do. When you get like 600, 700 at-bats a year, there are going to be more bad ones than good ones.”
Scutaro’s presence also has provided plenty for clubhouse chemistry, which is evident most days when the Venezuelan’s locker is surrounded by a handful of his Latino teammates as he tosses out jokes or stories to keep everybody loose.
“It’s incredible what some of these guys individually are doing,” pitcher Barry Zito said. “Just look at Scutaro.”
This team has an ideal mix of chemistry and talent, youth and experience. Hunter Pence came to the Giants from the Phillies three days after Scutaro, on July 30, and he has driven in 37 runs in 50 games.
“You can tell since Day 1 there’s a group of guys in here, a great clubhouse, great teammates,” Scutaro said. “It didn’t take me too long to get used to this. On the other hand, things are clicking. We started playing as a team — good defense, good offense, good pitching — that’s when you start getting good results. Sometimes clicking just happens. Chemistry sometimes is hard to find.”
Scutaro was long a super-sub in four seasons across the bay with the A’s, filling in wherever he was needed in the infield — and, on occasion, as an outfielder. Scutaro played 137 games during his first season with Oakland in 2004 and never more than that for the A’s. Yet even there, in the early stages of his career,Scutaro became known for his game-winning hits.
Playing time, that’s something Scutaro has tried not to worry about over the years, determined to make something happen when he is on the field while also not trying to do too much.
“I always felt when I was in the lineup more often I was a better player,” he said. “Sometimes you just can’t control those decisions, just be ready and wait for your opportunity. I always thank the A’s for giving me an opportunity to play in the big leagues. That’s when everything started. If I didn’t get an opportunity I probably would be in Triple-A or somewhere else than here.”
Scutaro’s steady production has been a surprise to everyone.
“There’s no panic in him,” Bochy said. “I know he’s done a great job for us lately, but if you look at his past, his history, he’s had a great career. At his age, to go out there every day it’s pretty impressive.”
And Scutaro hopes to help keep this roll going for another month.
“It’s always fun when you win,” he said, smiling, then headed outside to get to work.