The most memorable thing about Marco Scutaro’s first game with the Giants on July 28 is the anxiety that filled AT&T Park.
The Los Angeles Dodgers blasted the Giants 10-0 that day to earn a tie for first place in the National League West.
The boys in blue had acquired Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins earlier in the week, and he knocked in three runs after hitting a game-winning home run in extra innings the previous night.
In a matter of days, Giants fans had developed a runty-younger-brother complex. They filled talk radio with pleas for a big-ticket move, oblivious that the most impactful acquisition of the 2012 trade season had already joined the club.
Now the Dodgers’ chances of making the playoffs are vanishing quickly; they’re three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the final wild-card position despite spending hundreds of millions to bolster the lineup during the season.
The Giants, meanwhile, are 34-19 since adding Scutaro, a journeyman infielder who’s played in eight different organizations, been traded four times and released on waivers twice.
What does this say about the midseason arms races?
On paper, the Dodgers should have cruised to a division title. They’ve acquired a former National League batting champ (Ramirez), a former World Series MVP (Josh Beckett) and a four-time All-Star (Adrian Gonzalez) since the break.
But manager Bruce Bochy said in baseball it’s hard to predict how a front-office move will play out on the field.
“These things are hard to figure out sometimes,” he said. “How it’s going to fit, how comfortable the player’s going to be, how comfortable he’s going to be with the new club — these are unknowns.”
Scutaro wasn’t expected to be the Giants’ savior or an answer to the Ramirez trade. He was acquired to play third base after Pablo Sandoval was placed on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring. But he’s playing like an All-Star anyway.
In 53 games with the club, Scutaro’s batting .361 (.412 in September) with 38 RBIs. The hot stretch has helped him reach career highs in hits (180) and RBIs (68).
In Scutaro, the Giants obtained a patient hitter who knows how to extend at bats. When he does swing, he rarely misses. From Aug. 10 to Sept. 3, Scutaro whiffed only twice in 118 at-bats.
First baseman Brandon Belt said Scutaro’s selectivity in the batter’s box has rubbed off on some of the team’s younger players.
“He’s someone you can model yourself after no matter what kind of hitter you are, just because he does have great at-bats,” he said.
But Scutaro’s best attribute might be his versatility. He initially filled in for Sandoval at third even though he hadn’t played the position since 2008, and when Panda returned he moved to second base without hesitation. He’s played six different positions in his career, so left field isn’t out of the question if necessary.
Scutaro can also hit anywhere in the batting order. With the Giants, he’s batted first, second, fifth, sixth and seventh. But he eventually made his home in the No. 2 spot nestled between Angel Pagan and Sandoval.
With free agency looming, Scutaro’s future with the club is uncertain. But for the past eight weeks, he’s been as good a ballplayer as money can buy.
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PGackle.