ST. LOUIS -- Matt Holliday's cross-checking takeout slide of second baseman Marco Scutaro in Game 2 of the NLCS was more than just the flashpoint moment of the series to this point. It was also a vivid flashback and a reminder that the Cardinals and Giants have a long history of games that are fraught with hard play and hard feelings.
This is the third time these rivals have met with a trip to the World Series up for grabs and, on each occasion, there was an incident that came to define the clash.
In 1987, Giants outfielder Jeffrey Leonard homered in Game 1. And again in Game 2. Which might not have been a big deal except that Leonard celebrated his big flies by circling the bases with one arm hanging at his side. One flap down, he called it.
So when he homered again in Game 3, off starter Joe Magrane in the bottom of the third, the Cardinals had had enough. Bob Forsch was pitching for St. Louis the next time Leonard came up, and Forsch drilled Leonard. The outfielder homered again the next day but did it without his trademark. The Cardinals went on to win in seven games.
It probably didn't help matters that Giants outfielder Chili Davis, unhappy that Busch Stadium fans booed Leonard, referred to St. Louis as a "cow town."
Will Clark was a five-time All-Star first baseman with the Giants who actually ended his career with St. Louis. He's now a San Francisco special assistant with an emphasis on community relations. "Well, you know, he did the one-flap down and that sort of stuff. He had a great series, four home runs in four games, and I vividly recall Bob Forsch sticking one in his ribs as a little payback. So, you know, it goes back to the spirited part of the game. 'Hey, look. You know, to a certain extent you showed me up. So here's a little something for you,'" Clark recalled with a smile.
"For me, personally, that's just the way the game was played back then. You've got a certain set of baseball rules you don't go against, whether it was in the playoffs or in the regular season. So the point got made."
Whitey Herzog, who was the Cardinals manager at the time, said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Leonard was bouncing around those bases. I had gone up to Forschie the day before and said, 'You pitching tomorrow?' Forschie didn't say anything but the next day he hit Leonard right in the butt. That kind of put a kibosh on that stuff stuff a little bit. It might have been a turning point."
Fifteen years later, the Giants and Cardinals faced off in the NLCS again. And this time the fireworks started in the opening game after Giants outfielder Kenny Lofton homered and, in the opinion of the Cardinals, took a little too long admiring his blast off Matt Morris.
By the time Lofton batted again, Mike Crudale was pitching for the Cards and buzzed him with the first pitch. And Lofton didn't like it a bit, and began screaming at catcher Mike Matheny.
Matheny, of course, is now the Cardinals manager.
"That was a long time ago, it seems like," he said Tuesday, before play resumes at Busch Stadium with Game 3 on Wednesday night. "You know, we play this game with intensity. We play this game with passion. And if we didn't I wouldn't expect anybody to show up or watch. This is something we take real serious when we go about playing the game and try to play it within the rules, but respecting the game and playing hard. Sometimes you get emotions tied in and things go a certain way, in regard to back in the day."
Shawon Dunston was in his final year as a player with the Giants then. Now he's a spring training instructor who is also a fixture around AT&T Park during the regular season.
"That's part of the game," he recalled. "He hit a home run and [Morris] didn't like the way he was trotting around the bases. So he came up and in.
"Morris was my former teammate. After Kenny hit it, I said, 'That's the way he plays the game. So what are you going to do?' And he said, 'Well, I've got to get another one.' I just told him to expect one up and in because that's the way he plays the game and he plays the game right."
This time the Giants got the last laugh, winning in five games. Lofton drove in the winning run in the clincher with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, after Dunston kept the rally alive with a base hit.
The stories have back stories, too. The bad blood in the 1987 postseason actually surfaced during the regular season a year earlier. In July, 1986 Cardinals outfielder Vince Coleman stole second and third and tried to make it home on a wild pitch with St. Louis leading by eight. Coleman was later drilled which touched off a brawl that both managers, Herzog and Roger Craig, were swept up in.
And it didn't stop with the LCS, either. In 1988, Clark slid out of his way and into Cardinals second baseman Jose Oquendo while breaking up a double play. Another base brawl broke out. Clark said his slide was similar to Holliday's but added, "I knew I was going to get hit sooner or later."
There are so many connections that still bind the teams in addition to Clark, Dunston and Matheny.
Cardinals hitting coach Mike Aldrete played for the Giants in 1987 and was scheduled to start Game 1, until St. Louis scratched its scheduled starter, right-hander Danny Cox, and used left-hander Greg Mathews instead. So he takes indirect responsibility for what happened.
"I don't think, had I stayed in there, I'd go one flap down -- or hit four home runs, for that matter," he joked.
Current Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow pitched a complete game in Game 4. Catcher Benito Santiago was the 2002 NLCS MVP and threw out the first pitch Monday night at AT&T Park. J.T. Snow, the Giants first baseman that year, also works for the team as a special assistant.
And Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo is still routinely booed in San Francisco because he hit a big three-run homer that helped beat San Francisco in Game 7 in 1987.
So what happened Monday night is nothing new between these clubs. It just continues a long and colorful history. And Clark, for one, thinks that the Holliday-Scutaro matter hasn't been settled yet, even though Scutaro came back with the big hit that broke the game open.
"That's baseball gods coming back. But that doesn't make it even. No chance," he said with a huge grin. "There's ways to get even. To be continued."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.