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Nevius: Buster Posey remains Giants’ beacon in lost season

C.W. Nevius.

C.W. NEVIUS,

There’s a problem with calculating where it all went wrong for the Giants this year. How far back do you go?

A member of the Giants’ family joked last week that, “It started with the presidential election and went downhill from there.”

And it is true, the free fall was breathtaking. The lads lost the first game of the season in Arizona. Then they bounced back to win the next.

And that was the last time they were at .500.

There was a flicker of life in May when they climbed out of the NL West cellar to fourth place, but by June the record was 26-41 and they settled comfortably into fifth, which they have sub-let ever since.

They have held the title “worst record in baseball” at several times. They’ve tried a few motivational tropes along the way — win a series, beat the Dodgers and be spoiler — but now we’re down to “not losing 100 games.” Or, as Mike Denton, loyal season ticket holder and unofficial Mayor of Section 321 calls it: “our magic number.”

We can all recite reasons for the collapse. Highly touted reliever Will Smith hurt and out for the season before throwing a pitch. Jarrett Parker busting his collarbone. Madison Bumgarner saying, “Dirt biking? Great idea!”

But if you believe in omens, the sign that it wasn’t going to be their year came at the home opener. That was when Buster Posey walked to the plate, set himself in the box and was drilled in the head with the first pitch.

Posey went down like a sack of rocks. And he stayed down. Members of the crowd gasped. Some stood up. It was a shock.

As it turned out, Posey wasn’t done for the year. He ended up on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion, returned to the lineup and started more than 120 games.

But for an awful moment Giants fans confronted the notion of a season without their Big Dog.

Because now, at a distance of 150-some games, it is worth restating the obvious: This is Buster Posey’s team.

And, in this miserable catastrophe of a season, he’s done more than anyone to hold it together.

Last week I happened to catch second baseman Joe Panik in a reflective mood. I mentioned that the last Giants team to lose 100 games, in 1985, bickered and sniped at each other. That doesn’t seem to be happening, although the results are equally inept.

Panik, always media savvy, started out giving boilerplate credit to the front office, ownership, the leadership of the coaches and manager Bruce Bochy. But when I gave him a little nudge, asking about Posey, Panik got serious.

“He’s our guy,” Panik said. “He’s the guy everybody sees, good or bad. He’s a special ballpayer.”

Just to be clear, you don’t hear that often. Players credit teammates, acknowledge good plays, and tease them about foibles. But when you say he’s “our guy,” that’s unvarnished respect.

Posey is famously taciturn. If reporters are looking for a scoop, they’d better be good with vanilla.

But he’s got a little edge to him. There were accounts this year of him snapping at Brandon Belt when the first baseman was daydreaming rather than holding a runner on or failing to hustle to score from second.

“Forget about what he does on the field,” Panik said. “He doesn’t have to be the rah-rah guy. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, you listen.”

Posey caught some heat for failing to charge the mound on Memorial Day when Hunter Strickland — for reasons only a certified hothead can justify — plunked Bryce Harper (apparently) because Harper hit two home runs off him in the 2014 playoffs.

Posey was so slow out of the gate the home plate umpire got to the mound first. I can’t say I know what that was all about. Asked about it, Posey gave typical vague and generic replies.

But from here it appeared Posey was looking at Strickland, mentally shaking his head in disgust and thinking, “This friggin’ guy …” He didn’t have to say Strickland was out of line. Standing there was statement enough.

(And by they way, although they all arrived eventually, if you check the video you’ll notice the infielders didn’t exactly sprint to the mound, either.)

But, you can hear Posey saying: Enough psychology. Let’s talk baseball. Again, Panik:

“I think we get a little spoiled here,” he said. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game. I mean, for a catcher — a catcher — to be hitting .315? With the pounding his legs take from the constant squatting?”

This year Posey didn’t get much help from those hitting behind him. He has taken some guff because his power numbers are off. Just to be clear, it isn’t as if he’s choosing not to drive in runs.

Imagine trying to go deep when pitchers know they can afford to walk you. Instead, Panik says, Posey ends up seeing “a 2-0 slider down and away.” Let’s see you hit that pitch out.

And so, as much as Posey would prefer to be strictly discussed as a player, a guy like Panik says he impresses him in other roles.

“The person,” he said. “The leader.”

Contact C.W. Nevius at cw.nevius@pressdemocrat.com. Twitter: @cwnevius.