SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Aubrey Huff was so worn down he was among a handful of San Francisco Giants players to receive permission to skip the team flight to Arizona on Monday afternoon just to get a few extra hours of rest at home.
“Are you kidding?” Huff said. “I’m out at 9 p.m.”
After finishing a taxing stretch of 20 straight games without an off day, the defending World Series champions will take all the time off they can get. At least the ones who are left.
The Giants lost star catcher Buster Posey for the season in a home-plate collision. Sure-handed second baseman Freddy Sanchez is out indefinitely with a dislocated right shoulder and heralded rookie Brandon Belt might be out another month with a fractured left wrist.
Even with a clubhouse that has turned into an infirmary, the bruised and beaten Giants open a three-game series at Arizona on Tuesday with a one-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the NL West.
“I think we’ve pulled together as a team,” right fielder Nate Schierholtz said. “We’ve had a lot of unfortunate injuries the whole year. To still be in first place shows we’ve battled through it so far, and things should be better.”
Hard to imagine things getting worse.
The scene in the clubhouse Sunday would have been inconceivable weeks earlier: Posey was pushing himself around on a makeshift scooter that supported his reconstructed left ankle. Sanchez was in the training room with his right arm in a sling and Belt had a cast wrapped around his left wrist.
Relief couldn’t come soon enough.
Slugger Pablo Sandoval is coming off the disabled list to rejoin the team in Arizona. He has been out since he broke a bone in his right wrist in late April after hitting .313 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in the first 24 games.
That’s about the first chunk of good news the Giants have had in a while.
“Just having him around, laughing in the clubhouse, cheering the other guys no matter how he’s doing, just to have a starter back, will be a shot in the arm for them,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Hopefully, he’ll lighten the load of the other guys and they don’t feel they have to do so much.”
San Francisco’s rebuilt roster is still winning the same old way.
The formula of pitching and defense that propelled the franchise to its first World Series title last year since moving from New York in 1958 has carried over this season. The Giants have still had to grind out runs every time out, keeping games close and leaning on a bullpen that is among baseball’s best.
The timely hitting that carried San Francisco throughout the postseason hasn’t quite been there yet, with the offense routinely getting shut out one night and squeaking out a win the next. The Giants have been outscored 233-230 by opponents — a remarkable disparity for a team in first place.
“If we hit a lick,” Huff said, “we might be 10 games over the Diamondbacks.”
The contributions also have come from unexpected sources.
Ryan Vogelsong has gone from filling in for the injured Barry Zito to leading an already stellar rotation with a 1.81 ERA and 4-1 record. Midseason call-up Brandon Crawford has given San Francisco another power-hitting lefty, and the bullpen only seems to be getting stronger.
The starting pitching has still been the biggest reason why the Giants are in first place. While ace Tim Lincecum has struggled since a three-hit masterpiece May 21, rotation regulars Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez have given a banged-up offense a healthy dose of pitching.
So far, that has been just good enough.
“To be in first place, we know that means nothing now, and we understand that,” Bochy said. “But with all the injuries and losses, it shows the resiliency of the club.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)