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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Historic firsts galore send Posey into rookie lore

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SAN FRANCISCO -- For starters, rookie catchers don't hit cleanup in the playoffs. Not until this month, when San Francisco's Buster Posey became the first one to do it. Digest that for a second. In 134 years of Major League Baseball, it had never been done. Until Posey did it.

And that was the easy part.

Batting cleanup? That's the stroke of a manager's pencil. Bruce Bochy made that happen, so really, that bit of history is on Bochy.

But what has happened since then is all Buster Posey.

He had six hits in four games in the division series against Atlanta, and that was merely a prelude to Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, on Wednesday night at AT&T Park, when Posey had four hits from that cleanup spot, drove in his team's first two runs with two-out hits in the first and third, helped create the game-winning run with another hit in the ninth, and also saved at least one run -- and probably more -- with a brilliant defensive play in the Giants' 6-5 victory that gave them a commanding 3-1 edge in the NLCS.

"What a great night he had," Bochy said of Posey.

Really? You think?

It was such a great night that it will go down in history as one of the greatest postseason games, for a rookie, in baseball history. That's a mouthful, but I'm not worried about choking on those words. Two singles. Two doubles. Two RBI. Only one other rookie in Giants franchise history has had four hits in a postseason game, and that was in 1924, when the franchise was known as the New York Giants.

See, this stuff happens -- but it happens only in places that don't exist. Like the imagination. Or the New York Giants' old home at the Polo Grounds. Until now. Until Posey. So let's give Bochy another crack at a comment, something more appropriate than "What a great night he had."

Here we go:

"He did all the damage for us ... [but] nothing he does surprises me," Bochy said. "It's fun to watch this kid play. He's a guy you want up there, and he finds a way to get it done."

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Posey's offense will dominate the box score, but his defense may well have saved this game. The seminal defensive play of this game, and this NLCS, happened in the fifth -- a play so deceptively difficult that only baseball players themselves would understand. The rest of us, well, most of us missed it. Because Posey made it look easy.

"Toughest play in baseball," Bochy said.

The scene was this: Philadelphia trailed 2-0 in the fifth, with runners on second and third, when Shane Victorino singled to center. One run had already scored when Aaron Rowand threw home. The Phillies' Carlos Ruiz was bearing down on Posey when Rowand's throw started to die. It hit the ground about two feet from Posey, the dreaded in-between hop -- from a distance of more than 250 feet.

As Ruiz was barreling down on him. As Posey was blocking the plate.

All of that was happening when Posey reached down with his catcher's mitt, swiped at the ball, plucked it off the dirt and then slammed the tag on Ruiz.

Out.

"There's not a tougher play," Bochy said.

The Phillies would score three more runs in the inning, but don't be fooled. Posey's play saved not only a run, but also an out. With another out to work with, the Phillies -- who had runners on second and third when the inning finally ended -- most likely would have scored more.

"Turning point of the game," Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff said of Posey's tag.

That play doesn't need a punch line, but here you go:

Posey isn't even a natural catcher.

He reported to Florida State in 2006 as a shortstop/pitcher who had never caught a game in his life, not even in Little League. As an FSU sophomore in 2007 he was moved behind the plate, and by 2008 he was the best catcher in college baseball. The Giants picked him fifth overall in the 2008 draft, and Posey was hailed as the franchise's top offensive prospect since Matt Williams in the mid-1980s.

But Posey is more than that. He's more than we've ever seen, more than we probably ever will see, because as a junior at Florida State he also was the Seminoles' closer. He threw low-90s heat, had what baseball scouts considered a "plus" slider and changeup, held opposing batters to a .172 average -- with aluminum bats, mind you -- and to this day his former coach at Florida State, Mike Martin, will tell anyone who asks that Posey could get major-league hitters out. As a pitcher.

Ridiculous. But that's Buster Posey. In July, he unspooled a 10-game hitting streak in which he hit .514 with 19 hits, six home runs and 13 RBI -- a 10-game stretch unmatched by any rookie in MLB history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That was July. Two months later, Posey became the first rookie in MLB history to lead his first-place team to a 1-0 September victory with a home run. These are esoteric firsts, just like his historic spot at cleanup in the postseason, but they are firsts nonetheless -- and they belong to Posey.

And they are in worthy hands. A May 29 call-up, Posey hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in 108 games. He's a frontrunner to win NL Rookie of the Year, but he already talks like a veteran. He talks like Chipper Jones, with poise and proper respect for the game, and the right sentence coming out at the right time, every time. When asked to "digest what you did tonight," Posey paused and said, "I helped the team win. I guess that's how I digest it."

Pushed, told that he had just enjoyed "an epic night" for any player in the postseason, Posey smiled. But wouldn't budge.

"Well," he said, "thank you."

No, Buster. Thank you.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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