Posey is heart, soul and guts of Giants

The highlight shows will tell you that Buster Posey secured the National League West title for the San Francisco Giants with his memorable eighth-inning home run.

That is not true.

Posey did, in fact, make the decisive play in Sunday’s division-clinching 3-0 triumph over the San Diego Padres. But it wasn’t a base hit, or a sacrifice fly, or even a laser throw to second base.

Nope. Buster Posey won this game with his … uh … guts.

You may not remember the play, but the Giants’ most indispensable player surely does.

San Francisco led 2-0 in the seventh inning, but it certainly didn’t feel that way to the spent sellout crowd at AT&T Park. Reliever Santiago Casilla, otherwise superb, turned an easy comebacker into a calamitous two-out error. San Diego had the tying runs aboard. The dangerous Miguel Tejada was up.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy figured this was a good place for Ramon Ramirez. So on he came. Ramirez possesses an overwhelming repertoire of pitches and was unscored upon in his last 14 innings. But he had a reputation for coughing up leads during his recent tenure with the Boston Red Sox.

With Adrian Gonzalez on deck, the Giants couldn’t afford for Ramirez to fail.

Ramirez looked tense. But he still managed to move ahead 1-2. Then came the pitch that Posey might never forget: Ramirez, apparently squeezing the stitches out of the baseball, uncorked a 55-foot, 91-mph fastball that skipped off the dirt and caught his loyal catcher squarely …

“In the cup,” Posey would later admit.

This was not funny — particularly at the time — even though Posey’s wife, Kristin, let out a giggle as her husband retold the story amid the postgame clubhouse celebration.

Posey absolutely had to block that ball, even if it took baseball’s most extreme form of sacrifice to do it.

If that skips to the backstop for a wild pitch, the Padres have runners on second and third — and everything changes. Tejada can look for the fastball, knowing that pitchers often shy away from their breaking stuff with a man on third.

Instead, Posey’s grit kept the runners right where they were. Five pitches later, Tejada fanned on a split-fingered fastball that bored low in the strike zone.

If Posey had let that ball get by him, the entire pitch sequence might have unfolded differently.

“You’re right,” Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti nodded. “That was big.”

That play, as much as the highlight-reel homer, explains why Posey should win the NL Rookie of the Year award and just might be the Giants’ most valuable player.

Lest we forget, Posey is 23. He finished his career at Florida State barely more than two years ago. He didn’t make his season debut until May 29, but he is already a player the Giants absolutely cannot live without, the organization’s best all-around position player since Barry Bonds.

Posey has started behind the plate for 30 of the team’s last 31 games. Twenty times in a row, he has been Bochy’s cleanup man. If he were not in the lineup, the Giants would probably get confused and run the bases in the wrong direction.

Aubrey Huff is a fine hitter and leads the Giants in most statistical categories. But Posey is their soul.

“As a rookie, his composure is unparalleled to anybody’s I’ve seen,” outfielder Cody Ross said. “His mind-set is so far beyond his age. He plays like a veteran. I’ve never seen it before. He has to catch this starting five, day in and day out, take the grind and nicks off the hand and soreness. To be able to hit like he does, he’s the Rookie of the Year. I’ve played with two of them in Florida [Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan], but this guy’s the real deal.”

Said Righetti: “This guy’s different. He’s special.”

It’s apparent now that Giants general manager Brian Sabean and his staff did a superb job of building this roster. They didn’t swing a blockbuster trade in July, opting for smaller upgrades as the season went along. Many of the moves seemed minor. Together, they made sense.

In a way, Posey was one of the in-season acquisitions. He hit better than .300 during spring training and could have easily made the Opening Day roster. But the Giants, despite their frequent offensive struggles, resisted the urge to put one of the organization’s best hitters on the team right away.

Did that hurt them in the short term? Probably. Bengie Molina, for all his game-calling virtues, isn’t much of a run producer. The Giants might have won a few more games in April or May if Posey had been on the team. And had the Giants lost on Sunday, their fans would be lamenting that.

Instead, their jefe arrived with the requisite training. When Molina was dealt to Texas in early July, Posey was ready.

“Our feeling was that it was in his best interest — and our best interest — to wait,” said Bobby Evans, the team’s vice president of baseball operations. “Sometimes you take the short-term pain to get the long-term gain. That’s what him going to the minor leagues was. That’s what he needed.”

The Giants’ methodical approach worked with the bullpen, too. Three relievers who appeared in Sunday’s game — Casilla, Ramirez and Javier Lopez — weren’t on the team when the season began. Casilla signed as a minor-league free agent; Ramirez and Lopez arrived in trades.

And look at the lineup: Andres Torres was a journeyman minor leaguer before arriving in San Francisco last year; Pat Burrell was released by Tampa Bay earlier this year; Huff was forced to sign a one-year deal after a miserable showing (.189) when the Tigers folded down the stretch last season.

The Giants have a lot of nice players. But were it not for Posey, they would be a lot of nice players headed home for the winter.

“Anytime you have a catcher that throws like Buster, hits in the heart of the order,” Bochy said, “you think of Johnny Bench.”

So it was fitting that Posey became a hero on Sunday in the most obvious and the most subtle ways — and then squeezed the last out, after Will Venable swung through a blistering fastball from Brian Wilson.

And when Posey dashed out to the mound, Wilson saw the first “unadulterated craziness” he could remember from the heartbeat of these Giants.

“He looked like a complete animal,” Wilson said. “I wanted him to hit me. That’s where I was mentally. I would have smiled and thanked him.”

A less UFC-inspired show of affection came a few minutes later, after the Giants completed their fan-friendly victory lap. Posey, still wearing his shin guards along with the immediate-afterglow T-shirt, darted back across the infield toward the dugout.

The crowd roared. The cheers were obviously for Posey, but he never broke stride. He simply tipped his cap as he descended the steps, then tossed it into the stands.

One lucky fan took home a souvenir. For everyone else: a playoff series for the first time since 2003.


 

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