On a team known for stellar pitching, bushy beards and quirky personalities, the unquestioned leader of the San Francisco Giants is their understated catcher, Buster Posey.
From his prowess behind the plate, shepherding the staff through its ups and downs, to the bat that won the National League batting title, Posey is the biggest reason the Giants are back in the World Series for the second time in his three big league seasons.
"I'd hate to think where we would be without him," manager Bruce Bochy said. "The numbers, they speak for themselves. But also his leadership on this club. We saw what life was without him last year. ... I don't know a player that's made a bigger impact on a club than what he has on our club. He's just a tremendous talent. We're lucky to have him."
Posey has returned from a horrific, season-ending injury in 2011 to the top of the sport this year: starting All-Star catcher, batting champion, likely NL Most Valuable Player and World Series trip.
It's a remarkable story that Posey even made it back on the field this year, much less performed the way he did. It was his devastating injury that derailed the Giants' repeat hopes a year ago and led many to question whether Posey should ever catch again.
In May 2011, Posey broke a bone in his left leg and tore three ankle ligaments when bowled over at the plate by the Florida Marlins' Scott Cousins.
"I was excited just to be back on the field at the start of the season," Posey said Tuesday. "I definitely appreciate this year just as much if not more. When I was here in 2010 it seemed like everything happened really, really fast. This year I had the chance to understand the difficulty of a long season and the ups and downs you have over the course of the year. It's something you want to enjoy while you're doing it and soak up every minute of it."
Sam Francisco never really recovered from that blow and was unable to make it back to the postseason last year without its star catcher.
But his presence at the start of spring training this year set the tone for the entire season in San Francisco. He batted .336 to become the first catcher to win the NL batting title since the Boston Braves' Ernie Lombardi in 1942.
"For what he has been doing behind the plate for us has been tremendous all year," ace Matt Cain said. "He has done such a great job from coming back from last year's injury to doing what he's doing this year. I don't think you can really put it into words what he's done. Not a lot of guys could do what he's done. That's a special talent."
Posey added 24 homers, 39 doubles and 103 RBIs while managing the pitching staff and dealing with the wear and tear of crouching each night behind the plate and absorbing the foul tips and balls in the dirt that making catching such an arduous chore.
Bochy spelled Posey a bit by giving him 29 starts at first base, but both the Giants and Posey are adamant his future is behind the plate.
"We really treated him with kid gloves there early, and as we got deeper into the spring training I got more and more comfortable with how much he could catch," Bochy said. "This game is not that easy, especially when you miss as much time as he did last year and yet it didn't take him long to get into the flow of the game, get his timing at the plate and get back to handling the pitching staff."
Posey has been far from his best this postseason as teams have often tried to pitch around him in key spots to face his less dangerous teammates. He batted .178 the first two rounds with two homers and six RBIs, but it was his grand slam that broke open the clinching Game 5 of the division series.
And now he's back in the World Series.
With his boyish looks and supreme talent, Posey is almost a Bay Area version of New York Yankees great Derek Jeter, both heralded first-round picks who helped restore tradition-rich franchises to greatness.
They both won Rookies of the Year and World Series titles in their first seasons, quickly earning the respect of their veteran teammates. Both made it back to the Fall Classic in year three. Each manage to avoid controversy while being his team spokesman.
"Buster is so professional about how he goes about his business," Bochy said. "There is a calmness about him, about the way he plays, very well prepared. He has the ability to slow down the game, and I think he leads by example on how he prepares and how he plays, and how he handles himself. So he's definitely a leader in this ballclub and guys feed off him."
Posey is the face of the franchise and far different from the last position player to hold that title in San Francisco. He is quintessential anti-Barry Bonds, quickly turning any praise toward him to his teammates even if they may be less deserving. He was even one of the most outspoken Giants criticizing teammate Melky Cabrera this summer when the outfielder got suspended for testing positive for testosterone.
"The more you've played it's a little bit easier to be a leader," Posey said. "I try to help guys any way I can. I want to contribute whether it's pointing something out you might see that somebody is doing or whatever."
When he was called up as a rookie, there were questions about how he called a game compared to veteran Bengie Molina. But he quickly earned the trust of most of the staff, although Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito threw primarily to backup Hector Sanchez this season.
"We work really well together," starter Ryan Vogelsong said. "He's real easy to work with. He's got a good idea of what he wants to do back there, and he's got a pretty good idea what I want to do on my end. He's great. He's one of the best I've ever thrown to."