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DePO'S HOME RUN

Paul DePodesta, whose picks rarely clicked in L.A., made a great one for A's in Scutaro

October 09, 2006|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — Yes, Dodgers fans, Paul DePodesta occasionally gets one right.

That might seem difficult to fathom after watching Paul Lo Duca help the New York Mets sweep the Dodgers out of the playoffs, but while Southland fans are still muttering about DePodesta's 2004 trade of Lo Duca, Oakland fans are thanking their lucky hard drives that DePodesta's computer spit out a winner in a little utility infielder from Venezuela three years ago today.

DePodesta, the Dodgers' statistics-driven general manager in 2004, was an assistant under Oakland General Manager Billy Beane in October of 2003 when he suggested the Athletics claim Marco Scutaro off waivers from the New York Mets.

Three years later, soft-spoken Scutaro has become such an integral piece in Oakland's run to the American League Championship Series that third base coach Ron Washington declared him the team's most valuable player.

A more-than-capable defensive replacement for injured shortstop Bobby Crosby, 30-year-old Scutaro has emerged as an offensive star in the playoffs, doubling home runs in the first two division series wins over Minnesota and providing the decisive blow in Friday's series-clinching victory.

With a three-run lead, the bases loaded in the seventh inning and the McAfee Coliseum crowd chanting his name, Scutaro, who had an RBI double in the second, lobbed a three-run double to right to seal the A's 8-3 win and a spot in the ALCS, which they will open at home Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers.

While the A's celebrated the end of their division series drought -- four playoff trips from 2000-2003, four first-round defeats -- Beane stood in a quiet hall outside the clubhouse, away from the champagne and beer and thumping hip-hop music, and praised his former assistant, who was fired after two tumultuous seasons in Los Angeles and is now a special assistant in the San Diego Padres' front office.

"I'm going to e-mail Paul DePodesta because I remember the day he came into my office and said, 'I want to claim Scutaro on waivers from the Mets,' " Beane said. "I was thinking I was doing something more important and said, 'Sure kid.' And here we are, three years later, and Marco's been saving us. That was all Paul. Credit goes first to Marco, then to Paul."

Closer Huston Street saves games for the A's, but Scutaro has been something of a savior.

He wasn't expected to make the team in 2004, but when second baseman Mark Ellis suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in spring training, Scutaro stepped in and hit .273 in 137 games and set a franchise record for fielding percentage (.995) by a second baseman.

He was almost sent to the minors in 2005 but wound up starting 105 games for the A's at four positions, hitting .247 with nine home runs and 37 runs batted in.

Scutaro opened 2006 as a utility infielder, but because of injuries to Crosby and Ellis, he started 94 games at shortstop and second, batting .266 with 52 runs and 41 RBIs, usually batting eighth or ninth.

Add it all up, and Scutaro, who spent seven full seasons in the minor leagues before breaking in with the Mets in 2002, has started more games for the A's in the last three years than all but three players -- Eric Chavez, Mark Kotsay and Crosby.

And in that span, Scutaro has seven walk-off hits, including a 12th-inning RBI single on Sept. 22 that drove a dagger into the Angels' playoff hopes.

"It's almost a running joke," Beane said. "He's the guy you want in big situations."

Said first baseman Nick Swisher: "He's Mr. Clutch."

It's all a mystery to Scutaro, who always considered defense to be his specialty.

"I don't really have an answer for it. I just try to concentrate, look for a pitch and make contact," Scutaro said Sunday before the A's workout.

That wasn't easy Friday with a sellout crowd of 35,694 mimicking the "Marco Polo" game kids play in the pool, chanting, "Marco! Scutaro! Marco! Scutaro!"

"It was an unbelievable feeling," Scutaro said. "I said to myself, 'Do not strike out, please. Just make contact.' I think that was the best moment of my career."

Until then, the highlight of Scutaro's career may have come in the spring of 1996 as a 20-year-old minor leaguer, when he met Omar Vizquel, the Venezuelan shortstop Scutaro idolized as a teenager.

"After workouts, I'd go straight to the big league park and watch him play," Scutaro said of Vizquel, then with the Indians. "One day I was having lunch by myself, and there was a guy in front of me. It was Omar. I was just looking for a camera."

Scutaro never played with Vizquel in Cleveland, but the two got to know each other while playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

"After I made a diving stop this season, he called me and said, 'Hey, nice play, you're looking like me now,' " Scutaro said. "I never thought Omar Vizquel would be calling me."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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