Buster Posey’s magical season began on March 9, an ordinary Friday in Scottsdale. I listened to Doug Greenwald call the action on my laptop, hoping Buster Posey would get to hit in the first inning off Aroldis Chapman, who the Cincinnati Reds were thinking about adding to their rotation.
Unfortunately we had to wait a few extra minutes for Posey’s first at-bat of 2012, as Melky Cabrera (leadoff hitter that afternoon) hit a fly ball to center, followed by Freddy Sanchez (looking) and Pablo Sanchez (swinging) striking out.
In the second inning, Posey walked to the plate. I could feel the ovation over my crummy computer speakers. All was well in the world of the San Francisco Giants. Who knew what the season would bring, but at least Posey would play a role. What kind of role? Hopefully 100+ games, with most of those behind the plate. But there were no guarantees.
Posey hit a lazy fly ball to Cincinnati right fielder Chris Heisey, and that was it. Posey was immediately removed after going 0-for-1, but he caught two innings. Progress.
I visited the Giants in Arizona a week later. My curiosity about how the talents of unknown/unproven players like Gregor Blanco, Joaquin Arias and Gary Brown was dwarfed by the anticipation of seeing Posey in person. A day after I arrived, I saw Posey collect his first hit of the Spring on March 14 against the Cleveland Indians, a home run to right off lefty Tony Sipp in a game that ended in a 2-2 tie. Posey was a designated hitter that afternoon, and after a day off caught Eric Surkamp and Jeremy Affeldt at HoHoKam Park. Posey went 1-for-2 with a walk, and that was the time I stopped worrying about whether he was back. Posey was Posey and would always be Posey. It was up to the Giants not to tax his strength or his ankle with too much, too soon.
Follow the leader
The Giants’ season started poorly, as the D-Backs swept a 3-game series and looked every bit the NL West defending champs. However, Posey left Phoenix with a .333 average and a home run. Then the Giants collected their first win in Game No. 4 — Posey’s first day off — as Barry Zito threw a shutout in Coors. That would be a running subplot all season, Zito and Tim Lincecum pitching to Hector Sanchez.
Posey needed days off early on, probably more than he received. The man who didn’t need rest, who had almost superhuman stamina, was Cabrera — the easy choice for Giants MVP over the first half of the season if that award existed. Posey’s fantastic April led to a cooler May, while Cabrera was heating up. Cabrera had 51 hits that month, breaking Willie Mays’ franchise record for hits in May and tying Randy Winn’s franchise record for hits in any month (Sept. 2005).
The team was treading water in the standings while the Dodgers rode an easy schedule to first place in the NL West, and no one really knew what to make of the Giants. Who’s their leader? Who sets the tone? While Matt Cain and Posey were generally considered the established voices, it was Cabrera’s mix of hits, outfield assists and chinstrapped swagger that told the story early on.
Except for one funny exchange in a cramped clubhouse during Spring Training fueled by Jeremy Affeldt chirping in the background, Posey’s on-the-record comments were nearly robotic for months. Then the news dropped before a day game at AT&T Park against the Nationals in mid-August. Posey’s average had been climbing steadily for weeks, but Cabrera’s was still a little bit higher. Then Cabrera was gone. Tim Lincecum made gloomy postgame comments (partly because he allowed four runs in four innings and took the loss) about losing ” our best hitter.”
Not many in the clubhouse wanted to talk much about specifics in terms of Cabrera’s departure or how they felt about the ordeal on the day the suspension was announced, but Posey was relatively outspoken compared to his teammates and his normal talking-to-the-media self.
Posey seemed a little tired and achy in May, but by the time Cabrera’s positive test for testosterone led to a 50-game suspension, Posey had already taken back the mantle of “best hitter” on the team.
It wasn’t as much that Posey took off once Cabrera left. He was already soaring, with a slash of .331/.407/.544 after Cabrera’s last game on Aug. 14. When the regular season ended and writers filled out their MVP ballots, Posey’s slash line was .336/.408/.549.
Going into the break, Posey had a mini-slump during the Giants’ worst road trip of the season, a nightmarish 6-game stretch in Washington and Pittsburgh. Posey started the second half with this line: .289/.362/.458, and the Giants were 46-40. In the second half Posey lost touch with Earth for a bit, with a .385/.456/.646 line as the Giants went 48-28, flattening the Dodgers in the process.
Posey had an MVP-caliber game on Sept. 9 against the Dodgers — 2-for-4 with a HR while catching Zito for 6.1 innings a day after throwing out three Dodgers on the basepaths in a 3-2 loss, with both games shown on national television — and I asked Bochy a question afterward:
BASG: Buster Posey had another great weekend. Obviously there’s a lot of baseball left to play and you’re working towards a team goal, but can you picture any other player in the league being more valuable to a team than he is to yours?
Bochy: No, I can’t. With what he’s done for us, really all year and then you go from the All-Star break on. Here you have a guy catching and hitting in the cleanup spot and has carried us at times. I can’t think of a guy that’s more valuable for a club than Buster is for us.
Posey didn’t “carry” the Giants to the postseason, no player does. But to assert one’s self as the best hitter in the National League, while playing the game’s most demanding position a majority of the time, after a gruesome injury that left people questioning if he’d ever be the same … well, it’s almost miraculous. Yet it isn’t, because these sorts of achievements are Posey’s birthright. At least it seems that way considering Posey won the Golden Spikes and NL Rookie of the Year.
Now he now adds his first MVP Trophy to his ever-growing collection of tangible achievements. It is well deserved, seeing as he contributed so much to San Francisco that can be quantified with numbers, as well as the intangible qualities that allowed him to win the Willie Mac Award in September after it was a valid question whether he’d play more than half his team’s games back in March.
Here’s a look at the voting for NL MVP (Posey was close to a unanimous choice, and if you click the link you’ll see that both Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence picked up 10th place votes):