A series-changing play?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Maybe someday, if the San Francisco Giants go on to win the 2012 World Series, we'll all be looking back at this.

Looking back at one late, funky slide into second base that threw a sudden lightning bolt into this National League Championship Series.

Looking back at Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro, staggering to his feet and inspiring the masses by getting two hits before heading off to the X-ray wing.

Looking back at one totally unexpected moment in time that just might have changed everything.

Maybe. Or then again, maybe not. But even if that's not how this works at all, we suddenly have ourselves a subplot that might very well hang over the rest of this NLCS for the next week. And that'll work, too:

Will "The Slide" be followed by "The Revenge?" Join us Wednesday in St. Louis, and we'll all find out.

We have no way of knowing right now, obviously, if the course of postseason events was irrevocably altered by what happened Monday at AT&T Park, when the Giants evened this NLCS by putting a 7-1 hurting on the Cardinals.

We have no way of knowing whether a controversial first-inning slide by Matt Holliday was the fuel that drove the Giants to win this game, let alone the seven more they'd need to win to head back to the parade floats.

But we do know something changed in this game. And it wasn't just the nightly eighth-inning Sing-Along-with-Journey tune.

Until Holliday went tumbling over the second-base bag to flatten Scutaro in the first inning, the Giants were 0-3 at home in this postseason, were hitting .165 as a team and had been outscored 20-6.

So was it coincidence that, after Scutaro picked himself up and hobbled back to his position, they erupted for seven runs and 12 hits, beat Chris (Mr. October) Carpenter, and even got their first postseason extra-base hit by a pitcher since 1924? C'mon, how the heck do we know? How the heck does anyone know? But it sounded good when they hinted at that. So why not?

"Somebody said, after that play happened, 'That's just gonna [tick] us off,'" said Aubrey Huff. "And sure enough. We scored four runs there [in the fourth inning]. And it looked like we played with a little more edge after that."

"That was extremely inspiring," said Hunter Pence. "When you see someone like Scutaro take a hit like that and stay in the game, and not only stay in the game but get a crucial hit … it's inspiring. It fires a team up."

So what started the fire? It all began innocently enough. With a one-out, first-inning chopper to short by the Cardinals' Allen Craig.

With Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford fielding it and hurrying to make a quick feed to Scutaro in an attempt to turn an inning-ending double play.

And with Scutaro taking that throw to the left-field side of the bag, normally a safe haven for infielders trying to escape harm's way when they're making a pivot.

But then it happened. Holliday went flying across the bag -- flew nearly over the bag, in fact -- before hurtling himself into the defenseless Scutaro, and leaving the Giants second baseman agonizing in the dirt for a long, long time.

So even before Scutaro eventually picked himself up and did his best to gut it out for the next five innings, the debate was already raging:

Legal or illegal?

Dirty or clean?

Good, hard baseball, or a play that started out as good, hard baseball but crossed the line and morphed into something else?

Let's start with how Holliday saw it.

"In hindsight, I wish I'd started my slide a step earlier," the Cardinals left fielder said. "But it's happening fast. And you're trying to get to his lower half so he can't turn the double play. I wish I didn't land on top of him. I hope he's OK. I mean, I know him. He's a good guy. I wasn't obviously trying to do anything more than keep us out of the double play."

Asked if it was a play that grew out of the special intensity of the postseason, Holliday replied:

"It's part of the deal. You try to keep us out of the double play. Every run in the postseason is huge. Like I said, the only regret I have is that I should have started my slide maybe a step earlier so I wouldn't have ended up on top of him. But I've tried to take the second baseman out on double plays all season. Obviously, no ill intent there."

Asked how he would answer the people who thought this qualified as "dirty," Holliday snapped: "I'm not a dirty player. … I hope he's OK."

Scutaro never returned to the clubhouse after going to the hospital for X-rays (which were negative, said his manager, Bruce Bochy). So we'll have to wait a day for his reaction. But while his teammates mostly stopped short of demonizing Holliday, it's safe to say they weren't happy.

"I really think they got away with an illegal slide there," said Bochy. "That rule was changed a while back. And he really didn't hit dirt until he was past the bag. Marco was behind the bag and got smoked. It's a shame somebody got hurt because of this."

"He was beyond the base," said Bochy's bench coach, Ron Wotus, a former second baseman, of Holliday. "And when you go beyond the base, you're going for the player [not the bag]. I thought it should have been called a double play. … You're supposed to slide to the base. I think when you slide beyond the base, you really put the player in harm's way. … I respect playing the game hard. But that slide was too late."

"I was angry," said center fielder Angel Pagan. "Not because I thought it was dirty. But I'll die for my teammate, for anything that happens out there. I haven't seen the replay, to judge anybody. But obviously, you get angry to lose a player like Scutaro."

Many of the men in that Giants clubhouse have played baseball against Holliday for years. He spent the first five seasons of his career playing for the Rockies, in the NL West. And he's a former football player -- who often plays like a former football player. But that doesn't make him the Evgeni Malkin of baseball, either.

"I know Matt Holliday very, very well," said Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt. "He's a good friend of mine. He's not a malicious person. … I saw him running off, and I played with Matt, so I can kind of read his facial expressions pretty good, and I could tell he felt bad. But it's still frustrating, because it's one of our guys."

We probably need to point out here somewhere that this isn't an episode of "Friday Night Lights." It isn't the Rumble by McCovey Cove. And it definitely isn't part of the build-up for the next edition of Wrestlemania.

It's baseball. And baseball and anger don't always mix. But baseball and emotion can mix. And they clearly mixed up a storm in this game.

Just a few minutes after Scutaro hauled himself up out of the dirt, the Giants got themselves out of a two-on, one-out mess in the top of the first. Then Pagan dug in to try to set the tone for the rest of his team's evening. Four pitches later, he was lofting his second leadoff home run of this postseason into the seats overlooking the Cove. And the Giants were off and rolling.

"That's the kind of energy a team needs from its leadoff hitter," he said. "And I like to play with that energy."

Scutaro then marched up right afterward and singled off Carpenter on the second pitch he saw. And right there, you had the feeling this was going to be no ordinary night at AT&T Park.

Then the Giants blew this game open with a four-run explosion in the fourth. And what was the pivotal moment? A two-run bases-loaded single by (who else?) Marco Scutaro, which wound up clearing the bases when Holliday overran the ball.

When Scutaro had finished lurching into second, the Giants held a 5-1 lead. The orange rally towels were swirling. Ryan Vogelsong was well on his way to giving the Giants rotation its first quality start of this postseason -- in Game 7! And the home team was finally going to win itself a postseason game in San Francisco for the first time since blowing out the Rangers 9-0 in Game 2 of the 2010 World Series.

'Bout time.

"I don't know how to explain it," said Buster Posey. "We all love playing here. The atmosphere is great. It's unfortunate we dropped the first three, but hopefully this one gets us back on track. But I have to admit, I'd love to win the next three in St. Louis and not have to play here again until the next round."

Well, good luck on that. He should probably know that it isn't exactly your perfect win-the-World-Series formula for any team to go out and lose its first three home games of the postseason. Matter of fact, no team has ever lost three home games in a row at any point in any postseason and gone on to win the World Series.

But the Giants now have that chance. And there's no better way to respond to Slide-gate than winning. Is there?

But are we certain that's the only way the Giants plan to respond to this brouhaha? Uhh, not quite. And one guy who definitely isn't so sure of that is a former Giants great by the name of Will Clark.

It was 24 years ago, you might remember, that a furious slide by Clark into then-Cardinals second baseman Jose Oquendo set off a legendary brawl between those two teams, a season after they'd met in the NLCS. Now Clark finds himself in uniform, serving as an unofficial Giants coach. And as he spun his view of Holliday's slide Monday night, he didn't exactly sound as if he was campaigning to win the next Nobel Peace Prize.

Clark described the Giants dugout as being "[ticked] off" by The Slide -- "as they should be."

"I think that's good," he said, pointedly. "It puts a lot more emotion into a series. And that's a good thing."

So does that mean this saga isn't over yet? Will Clark listened to that question and just smiled, like a man who knew a secret but wasn't ready to reveal it.

"We'll see," he said. "To be continued. … Game 3."