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Original Issue

Playing Catch-up

Giants rookie Buster Posey had to prove he could handle pitchers. He's not only done that—he's shown he can carry a team

When the season began, the Giants wondered whether Buster Posey was ready for the NL West. The better question would have been, Was the NL West ready for Posey? The 23-year-old catcher started the season in Triple A, and even after he was called up in late May, he mostly played first base for more than a month, partly because of concerns about his ability to handle pitchers. Posey demonstrated immediately that his bat was big league ready—he went 3 for 4 in his first game, against the Diamondbacks—and has proved to be more than adequate since taking over behind the plate in July.

The result: Since Posey's season debut, on May 29, San Francisco had gone 59--44 through Sunday, the best record in the division over that span. Last week the Giants—who trailed the Padres by as many as 7½ games in July—caught San Diego and moved into sole possession of first place for the first time since May 6. (At week's end San Francisco had a half-game lead on the Padres.) In 96 games Posey was hitting .325 with 14 home runs, 61 RBIs and a .514 slugging percentage. "He's been clutch," general manager Brian Sabean says. "The kid has a knack for being able to perform in big situations."

That knack led manager Bruce Bochy to hand over the cleanup spot to Posey, who leads the team in hitting with runners in scoring position (.344) and has sparked its September surge with a team-high four homers this month. But Posey, who switched from shortstop to catcher during his sophomore season at Florida State, has also made himself indispensable behind the plate. After his call-up he was tutored by the starter, veteran Bengie Molina. When Molina was traded to the Rangers on July 1, the training wheels came off: Posey got the starting job, including the responsibility for calling pitches for one of the league's deepest staffs. "Communication is really big," says Posey. "My goal is to make sure the pitcher is comfortable. It's a lot more than just putting a finger down."

Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum—who's only 26 himself—says Posey is "mature beyond his years," and since the Molina trade the Giants have a 3.45 ERA, the third best in the NL. It all adds up to a Rookie of the Year--caliber performance, though the delay in Posey's call-up could cost him votes (especially because Braves rightfielder Jason Heyward, another leading candidate, has been in the lineup since Opening Day). Dodgers manager Joe Torre says Posey deserves the award because of "the position he's playing and offensively what he's done." That's an argument for after the season. As far as the Giants are concerned, if Posey helps get them to the playoffs, his arrival was right on time.

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Photographs by BRAD MANGIN

PLATE COVERAGE In addition to his heady defense, Posey has delivered at the dish (right), batting .325 and sparking San Francisco's second-half surge.