Rookie Buster Posey has become indispensable to Giants in NL West race

San Francisco's Buster Posey has 16 home runs and 64 RBI in only 405 plate appearances since being called up on May 29.
San Francisco's Buster Posey has 16 home runs and 64 RBI in only 405 plate appearances since being called up on May 29. (/Marcio Jose Sanchez/associated Press)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010; 12:14 AM

CHICAGO -- One night this week, with his San Francisco Giants in the middle of a gripping playoff race, Buster Posey came about as close as is humanly possible for a position player in the team sport of baseball to winning a game single-handedly.

From his catcher's position, he blocked two balls in the dirt when the Chicago Cubs had runners on base, preventing those runners from advancing. He threw out a would-be base stealer with a perfect throw to second.

From the cleanup spot in the lineup, he crushed a homer to straightaway center field in the eighth inning to break a scoreless tie. And as the field general behind the plate, he steered four Giants pitchers through an exquisite, two-hit shutout in their 1-0 win on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

For all we know, he may have also written out the Giants' lineup card, prepared the postgame spread and driven the team bus back to the hotel.

It was a game that encapsulated both the impact on the Giants of Posey, their preternaturally talented rookie catcher, and the exhilarating, maddening, tightrope-walking nature of the Giants themselves - who continue to hang tough in the teeming National League playoff race despite an offense known to vanish for weeks at a time.

For Posey, 23, the performance was the latest reason why he may be moving past Atlanta's Jason Heyward and St. Louis's Jaime Garcia in the race for National League rookie of the year.

Although Posey didn't arrive in the big leagues until May 29, and didn't take over the starting catching duties until July 1, he already has 16 home runs and 64 RBI in only 405 plate appearances, with a dazzling slash line of .323/.370/.524. His .323 batting average, in fact, represents the highest by a rookie catcher (minimum 50 games at the position) in history, just ahead of Mike Piazza's .318 in 1993.

But the best argument for Posey is this: As the Giants battle the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies for the NL West title, and those two teams plus the Atlanta Braves for the wild card, he is their most indispensable player - the engine of their offense, the shepherd of their vaunted pitching staff.

And this: The Giants are 46-30 since July 1, the day after their trade of veteran Bengie Molina turned the starting catcher's job over to Posey.

"Catchers have more responsibility than anybody on the field," said Giants closer Brian Wilson, making the case for Posey. "We're asking a 23-year-old rookie to take that leadership role. It doesn't matter that he hasn't been here the whole season. The fact he can go out there, keep the game tempo, hit the way he has, know everybody on the [pitching] staff - to me it's a no-brainer. The mound to home plate: That's where the game is."

But Posey's one-man show Tuesday night also underscored some of the Giants' acute shortcomings. Despite possessing the best starting rotation west of Philadelphia, the Giants are constantly playing 1-0 and 2-1 games - and losing their fair share - because they simply can't score any runs.

In a span of 11 games from Sept. 10 through Wednesday, the Giants were involved in four 1-0 games, two 2-1 games and one 2-0 game- going a combined 3-4 in them. While their pitchers have put together a string of 16 consecutive games in which they have allowed three or fewer earned runs (entering Thursday) - tied with the 1972 Indians and the 1981 Athletics for the longest such streaks since the start of the live ball era - they are only 10-6 in that span.

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