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Friday, June 3, 2011

Huff's three home runs more than muscular exhibition

Three home run games are often indulgent exhibitions of muscularity, more window dressing for blowouts than clutch, meaningful hits.

To wit: The Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista's three HR game earlier this year came in an 11-3 rout over the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Jays already had a 3-0 lead when he hit his first; a 7-1 lead when he hit his second; and a 9-3 lead when he hit his third.

Last year, seven players had three home run games, five of them in blowouts with scores of 7-1, 8-3, 11-4, 14-7 and 14-3. The exceptions: Adam Dunn hit three home runs and drove in five runs in a 7-6 win; Jose Lopez hit three and drove in five in a 6-3 win.

Aubrey Huff's three HR performance was swathed in meaning, despite the final semi-lopsided 12-7 score.

His first home run came when the Giants were down 3-0 and couldn't figure out the big lug of a rookie making his debut, Lance Lynn. They went down in order for the first three innings, and only had one base runner on by way of a hit by pitch with two outs when Huff delivered his first HR in the top of the fourth.

The home run closed the Cardinals' lead to 3-2 but more important, lifted the team's spirits and gave them hope that they could solve the kid.

Jonathan Sanchez had been all over the place, walking six for the third time this season, his focus off, his stuff inconsistent. Sanchez seemed to regain his focus and sharpness after the home run, retiring the side in two straight innings after the home run.

Huff's second home run was the back end of a back-to-back ambush in the Giants' five-run seventh, giving the Giants a 10-3 lead. Ok, so it may have seemed superfluous at the time. But when Colby Rasmus hit a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh (what kind of 0-2 pitch was that from Guillermo Mota anyway? A hit-me slider right into his wheelhouse!), Huff's second home run loomed nicely as a buffer against a potential comeback.

On a day that the New York Mets came back from a 7-0 deficit to win, it wasn't inconceivable that the Cardinals could mount their own comeback, especially after Rasmus' grand slam brought the Cardinals to within 10-7. So, Huff's third home run, a two-run wall scraper in the ninth inning was a nice jab to the stomach to put to rest any further Cardinal hopes.


Beyond the victory, Huff's three home run game -- his fourth blast in two games to double his season ouput to eight -- has answered some of the questions that have dogged Boss Bochy over his patience with veterans. Miguel Tejada and Pat Burrell have taken a lot of heat from talk show callers, but Huff was also beginning to hear it. Huff's only role seemed to be to set some sort of record for grounders to second on rollover swings.

Some questioned whether Huff had a longer leash because of the two-year $22 million contract he signed last winter. Some wondered why, if he had to stay in the lineup, he wasn't dropped to the lower part of the lineup. Many were pushing for Brandon Belt to supplant Huff.

But Bochy stuck with Huff because a) his history as a big hitter b) he hasn't lost any bat speed; he'd just been jumpy at off-speed stuff, and the league was exploiting it. Look at the back of his baseball card: he is a .281 lifetime hitter with 233 home runs coming into the St. Louis series. He'll come around, backers would say.

But then, when you took a look at the back of his card (or on the ESPN MLB page), you saw the inconsistency from season to season: After a star-like season in 2008 with 32 HR, 108 RBI and a .304 BA, he plummeted back to earth in 2009 with 15 HR, 85 RBI and .241 BA; after 2004, when he hit 29 HR, 104 RBI and .297, he fell off to 22 HR, 92 RBI and .261.

So, this could have been -- still could be -- one of those big dropoff years for Huff.

"We need to get him going," Bochy would say in what had to be the least insightful thing he's said all year, but most profound.

The irony is that Bochy had finally relented, benching Huff for what was scheduled to be at least a couple "mental days." Who knows? If Belt had stepped in at that moment and took off, maybe Huff starts to lose playing time, stuck on his .217 batting average wondering if he was on the downward slope of his career. But Belt went down on a fastball to his left arm that could have chopped wood, and Huff wound up getting only one day off.

Apparently, that's all he needed, along with a change in the calendar. He hit a booming, free-the-hostages home run to give the Giants a short-lived lead in their topsy turvy 7-5 win over the Cardinals on Wednesday, June 1. His two-out ninth inning walk in that game was just as critical, leading to Nate Schierholtz' game-tying base hit that set up the 11th inning winning rally.


The Giants had to pry Huff out of Busch Stadium, the story goes. And there's truth to it. Huff is now returning home, where he has to adjust to the cool, cavernous conditions of the Giants' ballpark.

The splits are pretty stunning, made all the more stark by his outburst in St. Louis: On the road, Huff has hit seven home runs with 24 RBI with a .244 batting average (31-for-127). At home, he has one (1) home run and six (6) RBI with a .215 batting average (17-for-79).

One thing going for him as the Giants start a 10-game home stand with a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies tonight: he's hit Colorado pitching better than most this year: .269 with one HR. And he's got some good history against starters facing the Giants this series.

He hasn't faced tonight's starter, rookie Juan Nicasio. But he's 2-for-9 with two HR vs. Saturday night's starter, Jhoulys Chacin, and 7-for-15 with two doubles and two HR vs. Jason Hammell, Sunday's starter.


  1. This blog will become a "must read" for Bill Bird. When I saw the three big fly balls from Huff last night I was instantly reminded of Darrell Evans when he did the same thing inside cavernous and cold Candlemistake Park during the mid 70's...

  2. Good memory on Evans, who still holds the record for most foul ball HRs and the Stick. Thanks, Bill! I hope it's a must read for your wife, too!