Ex-Rays become Giant boosts

BY MARC TOPKIN

Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – One was the personification of the
Rays’ lengthy past failures, the
other arguably among the biggest mistakes of the present
regime.

But now, together, Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell are two of the
biggest reasons the Giants are playing for the National League
pennant.

“We wouldn’t be here without them,” Giants GM Brian Sabean said
before Saturday’s opener. “It’s pretty simple.”

Huff, after signing a one-year, $3 million deal, turned out to
be arguably the Giants’ most valuable player, leading the team with
a .290 average, 26 home runs and 86 RBIs and playing solid defense
at first base and left- and rightfield.

And Burrell, after being released by the
Rays in mid May and first signing a
minor-league deal with the Giants, was one of their biggest
surprises, hitting .266 with 18 homers and 51 RBIs in 96 games and
taking over as the starting leftfielder after batting just
.202-2-13 in 24 games as the
Rays’ DH.

For Huff, the chance to be in the postseason for the first time
after 6? seasons with the
Rays, followed by unsuccessful
stints with the Astros (to whom the
Rays traded him in July 2006),
Orioles and Tigers, is cause for celebration. His 1,479 games
played without making the playoffs had been third most among active
players.

“This is a blast,” Huff said. “I’m having a great time. This is
what I’ve been waiting my whole life to do. I used to sit on my
couch in Tampa and watch these playoffs and think to myself, ‘Gosh,
how do these guys have the energy to play these games, I’m so
tired.’ Now I get it – pure adrenaline.”

Burrell had been in the playoffs with the Phillies in 2007-08,
which is part of the reason the
Rays signed him to the two-year, $16
million contract going into the 2009 season, along with the promise
of his powerful right-handed bat.

For a number of reasons – primarily Burrell’s inability to get
comfortable in the DH role – it didn’t work out in Tampa Bay, with
Burrell hitting only .218 with 16 homers and 77 RBIs in 146 games
over two seasons, and not appearing to have much positive impact in
the clubhouse. (He had a warm greeting for a St. Petersburg Times
reporter Saturday, although no time after batting practice for an
interview.)

“The guy’s been more than a pleasant surprise,” Giants manager
Bruce Bochy said. “Not just with his play, but also who he is, how
he’s helped out in that clubhouse. He’s been through this and he’s
really helped those kids in there.”

Saturday, Huff went 1-for-4 and Burrell 2-for-3, including a
crucial RBI double off Roy Halladay in the sixth inning.

PITCHING IN: RHP Roy Oswalt starts Game 2 for the Phillies
tonight hoping to do better than in his division series outing,
when he gave up four runs (three earned) and lasted only five
innings against the Reds.

But that start came after nine days off, and this one comes
after eight, and Oswalt isn’t sure exactly what to expect. “Seemed
like it was forever since we played,” he said. “You have (this
time) in between and you don’t know exactly what you need to
do.”

The Giants changed their rotation from the division series,
moving LHP Jonathan Sanchez up to Game 2 and pushing RHP Matt Cain
back to Game 3. Bochy said it was done to split up RHPs Tim
Lincecum, who started Saturday’s opener, and Cain as much as
anything.

VIEW FROM THE TOP: Acknowledging that usual Phillies leadoff man
SS Jimmy Rollins is still not 100 percent recovered from his
September hamstring strain, manager Charlie Manuel went with CF
Shane Victorino for the third straight game. “He’s done pretty good
there and we’ve been winning,” Manuel said. “And I’m still
wondering if Jimmy can steal bases and things like that, just what
goes into it. And also I like the balance that I think it adds to
our lineup.”

MISCELLANY: Burrell, a longtime Phillie, got a mostly positive
reaction from the Citizens Bank Park crowd. Vice president Joe
Biden was among those in the crowd. First-pitch temperature was
59.