SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Marco Scutaro looked up through the pouring rain, caught Matt Holliday's popup for the final out and punched his ticket to the World Series for the first time at age 36.
In an NL championship series that saw Scutaro absorb a hard and admitted late slide from Holliday that strained the second baseman's left hip, what a fitting ending.
Scutaro tied the NLCS record with 14 hits to earn MVP honors, capping off his remarkable run with three singles and a walk in San Francisco's 9-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night in the decisive Game 7.
``I was just like praying, `Please, you got to catch this ball,''' Scutaro said. ``It was kind of tough. I was kind of concerned. The flight of the ball, the rain kind of stopped it a little bit. Another minute, I don't think I would have a chance.''
After the kind of series he had, Scutaro came through in almost every way possible.
He batted .500 with two walks, scored six runs and drove in four. Hideki Matsui (2004 Yankees), Albert Pujols (2004 Cardinals) and Kevin Youkilis (2007 Red Sox) also had 14 hits in an LCS. And Scutaro's 10-game hitting streak ties Cody Ross and Alvin Dark for the longest in Giants postseason history.
Starting Wednesday night in San Francisco, he'll have a chance to break that mark when the Giants host the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series.
``It took him a couple days to adjust to us, but he really has been a leader since he got here,'' said pitcher Ryan Vogelsong, who won Games 2 and 6. ``He's played great. He's played great defense. He's a true professional. He knows the game. He does all the little things right. Everything you'd lay out on a table for a guy to do, he does.''
The Giants acquired the Venezuelan native in July at the trade deadline. It turned out to be one of baseball's best moves, and easily one of its most overlooked.
While the rival Dodgers' spending spree made headlines from coast-to-coast, the Giants took on just $2.1 million of Scutaro's salary from Colorado in exchange for minor leaguer Charlie Culberson.
All Scutaro has done since is make opponents pay - and he earned a $75,000 bonus for winning NLCS MVP honors in the process.
``That's the best thing that's ever happened so far,'' said Giants ace Matt Cain, who threw 5 2-3 innings of five-hit ball in the clincher. ``That's why it's `The Blockbuster.'''
He had a major impact even before October, batting .339 after the All-Star break to power the Giants' playoff push. Scutaro has delivered in the biggest moments in the postseason, and in many ways, has become the 2012 version of Ross.
The Giants plucked Ross off waivers in August two years ago and watched him capture MVP honors in the NLCS against Philadelphia and help lead them to the first World Series title since moving from New York in 1958. And just like in 2010, general manager Brian Sabean's move made the biggest noise at the most key time.
Scutaro became just the fifth midseason acquisition to win a postseason MVP award.
``When we acquired Scutaro, a great job by Brian Sabean, making that blockbuster deal, as we say, that's his nickname,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ``I knew he was a good player. But to see him day in, day out, you really appreciate the talent that this guy has. I don't know if it was possible for him to raise his game, that's how well he's played, his level. But he did after that slide.''
Scutaro was hurt on Holliday's slide in the first inning of Game 2. Scutaro got even a few innings later with his own big blow that helped the Giants even the series and end an 0-3 home slide in the postseason when he singled home two runs in San Francisco's four-run fourth inning.
Another run scored on the bases-loaded hit when Holliday misplayed the bouncing ball in left field. Scutaro left after the fifth of that 7-1 win because of his damaged hip on a play Bochy felt was illegal.
Scutaro never missed a game, and he never stopped played all-out, either.
His sliding stops were part of a spectacular defensive effort that backed Barry Zito in San Francisco's 5-0 Game 5 victory. He even threw his arms in the arm running backward after grabbing Pete Kozma's spinning hopper in the fourth inning of Game 7.
He also delivered a two-out, two-run double to highlight a four-run second inning of the Game 6 win. And even in the Game 1 loss, Scutaro's single to left leading off the fourth was San Francisco's first hit off 18-game winner Lance Lynn.
He had long been a super-sub in four seasons across the bay with the Oakland Athletics from 2004-07, filling in wherever he was needed in the infield - and, on occasion, as an outfielder.
Scutaro, who turns 37 on Oct. 30, played for Mets (2002-03), Toronto (2008-09), Boston (2010-11) and 95 games with Colorado this season.
No matter what happens now, he will always be remembered in San Francisco.
``I kind of thought I had a really good opportunity to make the playoffs with this team,'' Scutaro said. ``We just started playing good, and here we are in the World Series.''
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP