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Tracy Ringolsby

All the way back, Posey poised to lead Giants

Ringolsby: Fully back, Posey poised to lead Giants

All the way back, Posey poised to lead Giants
Sitting a half-game back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West standings, and with Melky Cabrera serving a 50-game suspension for use of a banned substance, the San Francisco Giants have gone from division favorites to underdogs.

All, however, is not bleak.

Buster Posey is still going strong, 15 months after a home-plate collision left him with a fractured left fibula, which required the insertion of two screws to put it back together, and torn ligaments in his left ankle.

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If the turn of events with Cabrera were "deflating," as general manager Brian Sabean put it, the recovery of Posey has been inflating.

Posey was behind the plate on Opening Day against Arizona, and started 103 of the Giants' first 118 games, 83 at catcher, 17 at first base and three times as designated hitter.

Manager Bruce Bochy, who coming out of Spring Training was hoping to find a way for Posey to catch 100 games, now says Posey will get the bulk of the time behind the plate down the stretch.

"We have to be smart about it, but we want him out there as much as we can," said Bochy.

Nobody can blame the Giants for that.

Posey hasn't just returned from the injury. He has returned to the list of the game's elite players.

Posey was good enough in the first half of the season to be selected to the All-Star team. He has been even better in the second half.

Check out the numbers.

Since the All-Star break, Posey leads the Major Leagues with a .434 batting average, .516 on-base percentage and .764 slugging percentage. He leads the NL with 33 RBIs and is tied for fourth with nine home runs. And that's despite playing his home games in a pitcher's haven known as AT&T Park.

"His ankle is a little creaky, but nothing serious," said Bochy. "We gave him some breaks early to keep him fresh, but you've got to be surprised how well he has felt."

Posey isn't.

Oh, there were anxious moments following his initial surgery, when he admits he wondered if he would ever play again.

"That's a natural thought that goes through your mind," Posey said. "At that point I realized that what I was determined to do was to get back on the field and play."

With a smile, Posey points out that at the age of 25, he has youth on his side. He also has a determination fed by watching from the sidelines in the final four months of last season, when the Giants failed to defend the World Series championship they claimed in 2010.

"I saw how quickly this could be taken away from you," Posey said. "You never appreciate the privilege that it is to play Major League Baseball until it's gone in a flash. Don't get me wrong. I always appreciated the game, but this added to the appreciation."

The appreciation others had for Posey was underscored by his absence.

The Giants were 27-21 at the time Posey was hurt, in first place by 2 1/2 games. Without Posey, they went 49-55, finishing eight games out of first in the NL West. The four catchers who filled in hit a combined .197 with 26 RBIs in 104 games.

The Giants' first-round Draft choice in 2008 -- the fifth player taken overall -- Posey, who was a shortstop until his sophomore season at Florida State, made his big league debut on Sept. 11, 2009.

He was in the big leagues to stay on May 29, 2010, four years after he caught for the first time in college. After spending the bulk of his first month at first base, Posey assumed the regular catching duties on June 20. Within days, popular veteran receiver Bengie Molina was dealt to Texas, the team the Giants would defeat in the World Series.

Posey was the toast of the town.

And then came that May 25, 2011, game against Florida. It was the top of the 12th inning at AT&T Park, the score tied at 6-6. The Marlins' Emilio Bonifacio lofted a fly ball to right field. Scott Cousins tagged at third, challenging the arm of Nate Schierholtz, and then it happened.

Cousins slid hard into Posey, hoping to knock the ball loose. He did. Cousins also knocked Posey to the ground with a season-ending injury.

"I was sick to my stomach," said Bochy, a former catcher. "It was a helpless feeling. It was a very emotional time for me. I've stood over a couple of catchers who have been banged up, but this time. ... "

Bochy, sitting in the dugout during batting practice, shook his head. Then he glanced toward home plate, and saw Posey getting ready to take a few swings, and the manager smiled.

And why not?

Posey is so far ahead of where anyone could have expected him to be -- anyone, that is, other than Posey.

He only played in 16 games during Spring Training, getting only 40 at-bats, fewer than 14 other Giants.

But Posey had shown up in Scottsdale, Ariz., in mid-February confident he was ready.

"I had worked out during the winter, and in January I started running, and that's when I knew," he said. "I was out there, running full speed again."

Posey hasn't slowed down since.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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