To get here, the Giants had to cut bait with Bengie Molina.
"We're not here without Buster Posey," Giants general manager Brian Sabean was saying the other night while watching his club work out in an empty ballpark under the lights. "We could have kept Bengie. But in fairness to Bengie, it wasn't fair to keep him."
|Bengie Molina battles his old team on baseball's biggest stage. (AP)|
"I wouldn't argue with you," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was saying Tuesday afternoon while watching his club prepare for its first World Series appearance.
Same World Series.
Two different clubs, three months and worlds apart.
"It was fortuitous for both parties," Sabean says of the July 1 deal that sent Molina from San Francisco to Texas for two pitching prospects. "Maybe moreso for him. We could have been selfish and left the kid without a safety net."
Fortuitous and crazy, all tied together with red stitching and a few funny bounces.
Thanks to a couple of phone calls between Sabean and Daniels on June 30 and July 1, and thanks to spirited postseason runs by the Rangers and Giants, this is only the second time in major league history that a player has been traded midseason and then faced his former club in the World Series that same year.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other time it happened was in 1985, when outfielder Lonnie Smith played a role in Kansas City edging St. Louis after the Cardinals had shipped Smith to Kansas City earlier in the summer.
"It was very weird," Molina said of walking into AT&T Park on Tuesday. "Because I was walking on the other side, into the visiting clubhouse that I wasn't used to. I hope everyone understands the situation."
A very sensitive man by nature (don't even joke about his sloth-like running speed when in his presence), Molina spent 3½ years playing for the Giants, loves the area and wants to make sure fans here understand he did not want to go.
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Somehow, though, the baseball gods persist in positioning him to take a whack at the Giants in the World Series.
Last time he dressed in the visitor's clubhouse here? When he was catching for the Angels during the 2002 World Series.
Then, Posey, the Giants' sensational rookie catcher who essentially ran Molina out of town, was 15 years old and still six years away from becoming San Francisco's first-round pick (fifth overall) in the 2008 draft.
Everyone knew that Posey was the Giants' future. When that would be, nobody was quite sure.
When Posey came up and played seven games for the Giants last September, it was clear that future was soon.
When the Giants recalled him on May 29, it was clear that Molina's days in San Francisco were numbered.
Looking for an experienced catcher over the winter, the Rangers had spoken with Molina's agent, Diego Benz, but "financially, it wasn't realistic at the time," Daniels says.
Texas, which began changing its culture in earnest last season to a team emphasizing pitching and defense, opened the season with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden behind the plate. But Saltalamacchia, the opening day catcher, developed the yips and landed on the disabled list early. Teagarden was shipped to the minors by the end of April.
The Rangers were left with journeyman Matt Treanor and a young Max Ramirez. There were concerns about Treanor's durability over the summer and Ramirez's youth.
When Posey joined the Giants in late May, the Rangers took notice.
"You could read between the lines that they wanted to play Buster," Daniels says. "Bengie was one of a handful of guys we kept our eyes on should he become available."
Initially, Posey played some first base.
Ever the pro, Molina reached out to help.
"When I saw him struggling, and in some ways, sad, that's when I stepped in and put my arm around him and made sure he was going to be OK," Molina says.
It took the Giants only a couple of weeks to determine that Posey was ready to move behind the plate full-time.
The Rangers were the only team to call the Giants, so the trade came quickly. Molina was sad and angry, but when he spoke to his soon-to-be-ex-teammates on the bus from the Colorado airport upon learning the news, he said, "I told them I wished them the best, I told them I loved them as brothers and friends, and they all have my number and that they should call me anytime, even about life, it doesn't have to be baseball."
"Bengie was a real pro, a great Giant, and we were glad to be able to put him in the position he's in," Sabean says. "It's a little bit ironic."
Yes, especially because no player has a more intimate working knowledge of his teammates than a catcher with his pitching staff. Tim Lincecum, among other Giants starters, has heaped generous amounts of praise on Molina for aiding in his development.
But while the baseball world wonders what sort of insider-trading information Molina will be able to pass along to the Rangers, the Giants think that talk is being overdone.
For one thing, they're a different team now. Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Javier Lopez, Posey ... so many of them weren't here when Molina was.
For another, the Giants are pitching differently now. Lincecum added a slider in late August that helped him rebound from the worst slump of his career. And it was Posey behind the plate as Giants pitchers compiled a 1.78 ERA during September, the lowest for any club in any month since Cleveland's 1.42 in May, 1968.
For his part, Posey becomes just the 11th rookie catcher to help direct his team to a World Series, and the first since ... Yadier Molina with St. Louis in 2004.
Yes, Bengie's younger brother.
"There was a huge dynamic with Bengie," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti says. "These guys were all young, except for [Barry Zito], and Z came over not knowing the league, so he counted on Bengie a lot. Bengie was a major reason we were successful as a pitching staff the 3½ years he was here.
"Once he left, I think there was a period of unknown ... because a lot of these guys totally trusted him."
With Posey, Righetti says, "that had to build somehow. I think Matt Cain helped a lot. Once Cain said, 'I totally trust [Posey]', I think that helped. I think it took a couple of weeks."
On a collision course with his old mate, Cain jokes about whether the Giants will change signs (duh) and pitch sequences from the first half of the season, when Molina was around.
"No, we're going to keep [sequences] the same so he can tear us apart," Cain says, grinning. "We're not going to change our signs, either."
Biggest difference between Molina and Posey?
"One is American," Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez jokes. "And the other is Puerto Rican."
The Rangers have been thrilled with Molina's work, the way he's helped C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter as he once helped Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez.
"I think maybe there's a perception that we've slugged our way to this point when the reality is, we've pitched our way here," Daniels says. "Bengie definitely played a role in that. With him and Matt, we were looking for a pair who could help with game management and handling a staff."
Now here they are, Molina, the Giants and the Rangers, caught somewhere between the past and the present, full-steam ahead.
What, exactly, is Molina feeling?
"A lot of joy," he says. "A lot of happiness. Very, very happy. I know I'm not wearing a Giants uniform now, but the fact that I'm back here in the Bay Area, it's an amazing feeling."
Not to mention that the Giants, Molina said, voted him a full playoff share (which last year was worth more than $600,000 a man). And he'll certainly get a second full share from the Rangers.
What a year.
Says Molina: "It's awesome."