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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Huff a smash at DH with game-winning bash for Giants

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- He went to high school in Fort Worth. By his own estimate, he attended some 100 games at old Arlington Stadium and then at the Rangers' new ballpark. Texas was his favorite team, and Nolan Ryan was his favorite player.

"He's a childhood idol of mine," Aubrey Huff said. "I wanted to be a pitcher because of him.

"Turns out, I didn't throw very hard."

But it turned out, he hits very hard.

And never harder than with Ryan, now the Rangers' president, sitting in the front row on a warm Texas Sunday evening as Huff helped San Francisco deliver an antler-busting 4-0 Game 4 World Series win. Some gratitude. What's next, defacing the Texas flags out in center field?

Yes, from the most unexpected of places, the Giants struck to seize firm command of this World Series.

And heck no, the unexpected wasn't rookie starter Madison Bumgarner, the 21-year-old phenom who has been pitching like a veteran since landing in the majors for good in late June and who thoroughly suffocated the Rangers for eight innings.

No. Where the lightening came from was ... drum roll, please ... from Huff, who was ensconced in the lineup as manager Bruce Bochy's designated hitter.

Imagine, a National League club marching into an AL yard and flexing its DH muscle. But there was Huff, smashing a Tommy Hunter cutter deep into the Texas night to put San Francisco ahead 2-0 in the third inning.

The blast gave the Giants an early lead that allowed Bumgarner to pitch relaxed and with some wiggle room. And as beautifully as Bumgarner was attacking the Rangers lineup -- just one runner past first base all night -- Huff's homer was all the Giants would need.

Talk about Huff-ing and puffing and staring folks down in the wake of the Giants' ongoing DH struggles. In interleague play this year -- six games in AL parks -- San Francisco DH's combined to go 2-for-22 with just one homer and two RBI.

Add Pablo Sandoval's futile Game 3 here and Huff's harmless ground ball in the first, and Giant DHs were 2-for-26 this season when Huff unleashed the swing that undoubtedly stunned Ryan while striking a blow toward the Giants winning their first World Series title since moving to San Francisco in 1958.

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"It's certainly special," said Huff, the 11-year veteran, after slugging the first postseason homer of his career. "It's in the back of your mind you'd like to hit a big homer to put you ahead.

"It's pretty surreal right now."

That Huff was in the right place at the right time is another result of Bochy pulling all the right levers.

"Huffy's very familiar with [DH-ing]," injured Giants infielder Mark DeRosa said. "When he saw the lineup go up today, he had the biggest smile in the clubhouse.

"He was excited, and he knew what to do."

He's known for a long time.

"I started watching Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez, back in the days of Steve Buechele, Ruben Sierra and Julio Franco," Huff said. "I grew up watching those guys and told my mom one day I wanted to be a professional baseball player. And she bought me a batting cage on a Winn-Dixie [grocery store] salary."

Aubrey was 10 at the time. His father had been shot and killed while attempting to intervene in a workplace domestic dispute when he was 6.

"Single mother, raising two kids, to buy me a batting cage," Huff said. "I think she did it more to keep me out of trouble more than anything. I don't think she realized how much I worked hard in that thing every day.

"I wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for her making that decision."

Along with Ryan, and former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Huff's mother, Fonda, was seated somewhere in the sellout crowd of 51,920. So was Huff's wife's side of the family.

"I have some really good buddies here," Huff said. "I know a lot of guys from high school, they've bought their own tickets. They've been around, but I haven't seen them.

"I had a lunch planned with them today but my two kids and my wife got a little sick this morning, so I wasn't going to be able to connect with those guys. But it's definitely special. You see so many faces you recognize in the stands during stretching."

Before this postseason ride began, Huff had played in more than 1,000 big-league games, third-most among active players without ever playing in a playoff game. He was with Tampa Bay from 2000-2006, missing the Rays' World Series team (2008) by just two seasons. Traded to Houston in '06, he thought he could get to the playoffs with the Astros, who had played in the '05 World Series. No dice. Next stop was Baltimore (2007-2009), and then he was traded to Detroit last summer, but the Tigers faded down the stretch and lost a one-game playoff to the Twins.

Before this season began, Huff went late into the winter without a job. He didn't sign with the Giants until Jan. 10, and at a club-friendly price (one year, $3 million) at that.

"I had no offers at all in the offseason ... and when the Giants called, you had to jump on it," Huff said. "Being a left-handed hitter, it didn't sound really appealing hitting in that yard."

Now, he wouldn't trade his place in the game for anything.

Nor the Giants, him.

"Huge," closer Brian Wilson said of Huff's homer. "It was perfect timing to get locked in. He's been an extremely huge acquisition this year. He's been a clubhouse presence, he hit in the mid-20s homers [26] ... he's been nails all year long."

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