Last night, the Red Sox traded incumbent starting shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies, presumably to free up the $6 million dollars he was slated to earn. While Red Sox fans debated what the move meant for the likes of Roy Oswalt, Mike Aviles, Nick Punto, and The Gloved Wunderkind Who Hits Worse Than Ramiro Pena™, Yankees fans breathed a sigh of relief. You see, Marco Scutaro is the David to Mariano Rivera’s Goliath. He is a middling hitter, more of a pest than anything, with a career OPS+ of 93. Against the Yankees overall, he has a thoroughly unimpressive .697 OPS. But when he digs in against the Great Rivera, the nondescript, unspectacular Scutaro, for no identifiable reason, turns into Edgar Martinez.
It all started in April of 2007. To that point, Scutaro had 6 career at-bats against Rivera, and was hitless with 2 walks. One of those walks came around to score a winning run, but the final score was 6-3 and the walk did not seem to be all that important. But on Sunday, April 15th, Andy Pettitte and Scott Proctor handed Rivera a 4-2 lead on a nice afternoon in Oakland. With 2 outs, Todd Walker singled and Jason Kendall walked, bringing the light-hitting Scutaro to the plate. On an 0-2 pitch, Scutaro turned on a cutter up in the zone and drove it off the foul pole in left, turning a certain Yankees win into a painful loss.
For a few seasons, it seemed as if Scutaro’s success against Mariano would prove to be a one-time event, a fluke that would make him the answer to a trivia question one day but nothing more. In 2008 and 2009, Scutaro faced Mo six times and reached base once, a single that was rendered meaningless by Rivera retiring the subsequent hitter. And then Scutaro signed with the Red Sox.
Marco faced Mo four times in 2010, but only twice in vitally important situations (Mo retired him in the two lower leverage spots). Scutaro reached base the first time he faced Mo in a Red Sox uniform, doubling to bring the tying run to the plate, but Mo retired the next two Sox in order to end the game. Later that season, after Joba Chamberlain blew a 5-1 lead by allowing 4 runs in the 8th, Rivera allowed 2 runs in the 9th, with a blooper off the bat of Scutaro that was ruled an error being the turning point of the inning. Marco was starting to reveal himself as a pesky hitter who could at least make contact off Rivera, but it was not until 2011 that he established himself as a true annoyance to the great Mo.
On August 7th, the Yankees played the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball, looking to win their first series from the Sox in 4 tries. Behind homers from Eduardo Nunez and Brett Gardner, as well as solid pitching from Freddy Garcia, Cory Wade, Rafael Soriano, and David Robertson, the Yankees carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 9th. Alas, Marco Scutaro was poised to strike, doubling off the Green Monster to start the inning and eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly. The Yankees lost the game one inning later.
When the teams met again on the first day of September, Scutaro and Rivera matched up in similar circumstances. The Yankees were once again trying to take their first series from the Red Sox, with the entire country watching the two clubs clash on ESPN. They took a lead late in the contest against Daniel Bard, and handed Rivera a 4-2 advantage. After Jed Lowrie walked to start the frame, Rivera retired the next two batters before walking Jacoby Ellsbury. In stepped Marco Scutaro, already feared as Rivera Kryptonite, with a chance to extend the game and bring up Adrian Gonzalez. Marco did just that, lining a hard single to RF and setting up the Yankees for more heartbreak. However, Rivera struck out Gonzalez looking, and the Yankees finally celebrated a series victory over their rivals from Beantown.
When the Yankees faced the Red Sox late in September, Joe Girardi decided not to take any chances with Scutaro. With the game tied at 4 with 2 outs in the top of the 9th, a runner at 3rd, and the struggling Jarrod Saltalamacchia on deck, Girardi finally gave in to the Myth of Marco and had Rivera intentionally walk Scutaro. Salty struck out to validate the decision, but the Yankees eventually lost the game.
Scutaro’s resume against Rivera is a bit thinner than I thought it would be, but it is important to remember that not many hitters get to Mo at all, and that notching multiple successes against him is notable. Of hitters with at least 20 PA’s against Rivera, Scutaro’s OPS of .988 (.294/.400/.588) is 5th highest, trailing just Edgar Martinez, Aubrey Huff, Rafael Palmeiro, and Vernon Wells. As William Juliano noted, Scutaro is one of 5 players to have a walk-off homer off Rivera, and one of 8 to have at least 3 extra-base hits against him. And his IBB against him last season makes him one of the 33 hitters (36 walks) to be given a free pass by Mo, and 17 of those walks came with runners on 2nd and 3rd to load the bases and create a force play. I’ll let the WSJ contextualize that:
Since 2001, the legendary Yankees closer has issued 20 intentional walks. Thirteen were to load the bases and set up a force at home, but the rest of the list consists of the greatest sluggers of this generation: Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Evan Longoria and Carlos Delgado (twice). Now add Scutaro, and his .387 lifetime slugging percentage, to that group.
Small sample or not, Scutaro was one of the few players who made me a bit uncomfortable when he dug in against Mariano Rivera. That unease may have been based on one swing from 2007, but I know many other Yankees fans shared it and are glad to see him head off to Colorado. If you asked him, Mariano might tell you that he feels the same way.