SAN FRANCISCO -- Buster Posey has literally picked himself up off the ground and continued to rise.The San Francisco Giants catcher has ascended to the level of stardom and performance enjoyed by few. Posey essentially gives the Giants a chance to win just by showing up for work. "You've got guys who are just better than the others, and they all know it. You feel like you've got the upper hand going into a fight with a guy like that," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "Posey carries all the intangibles. It resonates even with players on the other team. They know it. It's an intangible, but it's something you see, how players react. Posey is an attitude guy. Players look at your team differently when you have someone like that."
Few ballclubs ever have had a performer like Posey, who handles the demands of catching as well as the pressure of batting cleanup. Either responsibility by itself is a weighty one, but Posey has accepted both.
"It's a grind," Posey said. "You just have to realize that you're going to play uncomfortable sometimes and even a little hurt. It's hard for anybody to really understand it unless you're back there."Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who typically avoids hyperbole, employed superlatives to describe Posey, who leads San Francisco into its National League Championship Series matchup against St. Louis that opens Sunday at 5 p.m. PT on FOX. "He's a great player," Bochy said of Posey, the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year who's a clear favorite to capture the league's Most Valuable Player Award. "You're seeing one of the best young players in the game. He's fun to watch." That helped Posey receive more votes than any other NL player in history (7,621,370) in the balloting for this year's All-Star Game. His popularity also can be attributed to his compelling saga. Posey's 2011 season ended on May 25, when he sustained multiple left leg injuries in a home-plate collision with Florida's Scott Cousins. The image of Posey writhing in the dirt, clawing the earth in agony, remains indelible. But by the time he and his family returned to their Georgia home in early November, he had accomplished a few milestones in his recovery at the Giants' training complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., such as catching some bullpen sessions for Minor League pitchers and beginning running exercises. Posey worked diligently all offseason with head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner and his assistants.
"I give a lot of credit to Dave and the entire staff for all the work they did to get me back on the field," Posey said.That work paid off as Posey hit .336 to win the NL batting title, a truly historic achievement. During baseball's modern era (since 1900), only three batting champions played primarily catcher: Bubbles Hargrave (Cincinnati, 1926), Ernie Lombardi (Cincinnati, 1938; Boston, 1942) and Joe Mauer (Minnesota, 2006, 2008-09). Lombardi, who hit .330 for the '42 Braves, was the last National Leaguer to earn this distinction. The position's physically grueling nature explains its lack of representatives atop the hitting charts. Posey also became the second Giant to win a batting title since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958. Barry Bonds topped the league in 2002 and 2004. Five New York Giants won batting titles, including Hall of Famers Roger Connor (1885), Bill Terry (1930) and Willie Mays (1954). So when Posey said of his feat, "I don't think it's something you ever think about," he meant it. "To come off a devastating injury like he had and bounce back and not just have a good year but win a batting title is truly amazing to me," Bochy said. "It really demonstrates the talent that this guy has. I couldn't be happier for him -- not just in coming back, but being the force that he is." Posey reciprocated, singling out Bochy for preserving his energy by resting him just enough and starting him in 29 games at first base, where a player must be more mobile than most observers realize. Posey made 110 starts at catcher and appeared in 148 games overall. His stamina was evident as he hit .289 before the All-Star break and .385 afterward. Bochy said Posey far exceeded the team's playing-time expectations for him.
"We thought we were going to have to treat him with kid gloves and he just responded so well," said Bochy, whose personal preseason projection for Posey was 110 games. "His ankle got cranky a couple of times, but we kept an eye on him and gave him his time off, which ended up benefiting him and us at the end when we could throw him out there more."Posey's recovery from his leg injury has renewed his appreciation for the game -- "Just knowing that it can be gone quick and enjoying every bit of it," he said. One of the moments that Posey savored occurred in the decisive Game 5 of the NL Division Series, when Posey's fifth-inning grand slam highlighted the Giants' six-run outburst that propelled them to a 6-4 victory. His teammates expected nothing less. "Posey has been our guy all year," left-hander Barry Zito said. "It's one of those things where we were just waiting for him to do it," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "We knew it was going to happen sometime."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.