Buster Posey, Marlins legend? Two wild pitches, two homers that changed paths for two MLB franchises
Information about Buster Posey, Marlins legend? Two wild pitches, two homers that changed paths for two MLB franchises
Buster Posey is on the short list of best players ever to wear a San Francisco Giants uniform, in the superstar picture along with Willie Mays, Barry Bonds and Willie McCovey.
It’s impossible to imagine this generation of Giants baseball — three World Series titles since 2010, plus the incredible 2021 script still being written — without Posey. He’s an inner-circle Bay Area legend and likely future Hall of Famer.
And it’s crazy to think how close he came to being a Marlins catcher. How close? One trade-deadline pickup — by the Padres, not the Giants or Mariners — and two wild pitches in a meaningless August game between two also-ran teams out of playoff contention changed the course of two franchises.
I’ll explain in a moment. First, background.
The formula for the MLB Draft order is pretty simple: reverse order of the standings. The team that has the worst record in baseball gets the No. 1 pick. The team with the best record gets the last pick of the first round. There are variations thrown into the mix, with unsigned draft picks or compensation picks for free agents, of course, but draft picks cannot be traded, so the draft order stays pretty true to the standings most years.
In the 2008 MLB Draft, the Giants had the No. 5 pick and the Marlins had the No. 6 pick. The Marlins and Giants actually tied in the overall 2007 standings with identical 71-91 records. The draft-order tiebreaker is the previous year’s record, and the Giants only won 76 games in 2006, while the Marlins won 78, so San Francisco picked one spot ahead of Florida.
One more loss by the Marlins in 2007 would have left the club with a 70-92 record and the No. 5 pick in the 2008 draft. The Marlins were no stranger to dramatic games in 2007; they had nine walk-off wins and 22 one-run victories. Flip just one and the draft order changes. And one more Giants win in 2007 would have pushed San Francisco to a 72-90 record and down the No. 6 pick; the Giants had 11 walk-off losses and 28 one-run losses. Flip one of those and, yeah, you get the picture.
But we’ll get back to that. First, let’s look at the 2008 Draft.
The Rays had the No. 1 overall pick, and they were considering either Posey, a catcher from Florida State, or prep shortstop Tim Beckham. In the Baseball America predraft player rankings, Posey was fourth, behind Vanderbilt slugger Pedro Alvarez, San Diego pitcher Brian Matusz and Beckham. In the days before the draft, reports of Posey’s camp demanding a $12 million signing bonus started to circulate, perhaps in an attempt to dissuade the Rays from taking FSU’s catcher.
Here’s what Jim Callis, the MLB.com draft guru who was Baseball America’s draft guru back then, wrote in his final 2008 Mock Draft, published right before the draft.
“The Rays were torn between Posey, a rare athletic catcher who could fill its biggest need, and Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham, the best combination of five-tool ability and baseball aptitude in the draft. Posey seemed to have the edge in the weeks before the draft, but Tampa Bay has settled on Beckham. How much it came down to talent, money or the Rays’ greater success with prepsters as top picks remains to be seen.”
The Rays did take Beckham. Then, as expected, the Pirates took Alvarez — seen as the draft’s best hitter — at No. 2, the Royals took prep first baseman Eric Hosmer at No. 3 and the Orioles picked Matusz — seen as the draft’s best pitcher — at No. 4.
So Posey was there at No. 5, and the Giants snatched him up. The Marlins picked a catcher at No. 6, too — Kyle Skipworth, a high school phenom from California. He showed some power in the minors (21 homers in 116 games at AA in his Age 22 season) but his entire big-league career consisted of four plate appearances for the Marlins in 2013.
So here’s a question: Would the Marlins have taken Posey, even with his reported salary demands, if they had the chance? Callis actually had the Marlins taking Posey at No. 6, after he had the Giants taking Justin Smoak, a switch-hitting college slugger from South Carolina at 5. Here’s what he wrote in the mock draft:
“The Marlins typically don’t exceed MLB’s bonus recommendations in the first round, but the chance to get Posey could change that. Florida seems locked in on a catcher, as the decision will come down to Posey or offensive-minded California high schooler Kyle Skipworth. Posey’s emerging bat and defensive superiority trump his asking price.”
Oh, and as for the reported outrageous bonus demands? Beckham, Posey, Alvarez and Hosmer all signed for between $6 million and $6.2 million.
Now, finally, let’s take a look at two games in two days that changed the fortunes of two franchises.
Aug. 3: Padres 4, Giants 3 (10 inn.)
The setup: The pregame focus for this contest was all about Barry Bonds, who entered the game with 754 career homers, just one short of Hank Aaron’s career mark. Who knew the events of the game would have make such a different type of impact on the San Francisco franchise?
Giants mainstay Matt Cain cruised through seven innings, shutting out the Padres on just three hits. San Francisco grabbed a 3-0 lead on an RBI groundout by Ray Durham in the third and a two-run double by Dave Roberts — yes, the future manager of the rival Dodgers — in the seventh. Cain was pulled after allowing hits to two of the first three batters in the eighth inning. Reliever Vinnie Chulk got Mike Cameron on a foul pop-up, bringing up Scott Hairston, who had joined the Padres in a trade about a week earlier as part of San Diego’s playoff push.
The game-changing moments: With two outs and two on, Hairston — who had entered the game in the fifth inning as a replacement for the injured Milton Bradley — smoked the first pitch he saw from Chulk over the wall in left field, knotting the game at 3-3.
The score was still 3-3 when Hairston came up again in the 10th, against Jack Taschner. This time he worked the count full before depositing the baseball over the left-field wall to give the Padres a 4-3 walk-off win.
“I was just telling myself to be aggressive,” Hairston told reporters. “That’s why you play the game, for moments like that. It was a playoff atmosphere.”
Hairston wasn’t done torturing Giants pitching in 2007. The very next day, he led off the bottom of the first with a home run in a game San Diego eventually won 3-2. He hit a ninth-inning homer against the Giants on Sept. 14 in a game the Padres eventually won 5-4 in 10 innings. On Sept. 25, Hairston homered off Matt Cain, the first Padres run in a game they trailed 4-0 but eventually came back to win 6-4.
If you’re counting, that’s five Hairston homers in four games that the Padres won by a combined five runs. Here’s the truth: If San Diego doesn’t trade for Hairston, Buster Posey is drafted by the Marlins.
Aug. 4: Marlins 6, Astros 5 (12 inn.)
The setup: One day after Hairston’s heroics downed the Giants, the Marlins — still the Florida Marlins back then — took the field at home against the Astros.
The Marlins had lost nine of their past 11 games, a frustrating slide after crawling within a few games of the .500 mark. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, then in his Age 24 season, tied the game 5-5 in the seventh with a solo home run to center field, and that’s how the game stayed until the 12th inning.
The game-changing moments: Lefty Steve Randolph, who had returned to the majors in 2007 at 33 years old for the first time since 2004 earlier in the season, threw a scoreless 11th and retired the first two Marlins he faced in the bottom of the 12th. Astros manager Phil Garner, with Cabrera’s game-tying blast fresh in his memory, elected to intentionally walk Cabrera to pitch to lefty Mike Jacobs.
“We made a good pitch on him and he hit it out of the ballpark, so I wasn’t about to pitch around him and have him reach out there and drive one over the wall,” Garner told reporters.
Randolph’s first offering was a slider that spiked into the dirt, bounced up and caught catcher Eric Munson in the throat, under his neck guard. Ouch. Cabrera moved to second base. The trainer came out, but Munson stayed in the game.
With the count 2-1, Randolph uncorked another spiked slider that again found dirt a couple of feet in front of the plate. This one, though, bounced off Munson’s right hip and careened toward the first-base dugout. Munson sprinted after the baseball, but both the catcher and the ball went sliding into the dugout. The umpires ruled Munson had touched the ball before it went in, and therefore, by rule, the runner was allowed to advance two bases.
Cabrera scored. The game was over.
“Never in my life,” Randolph told reporters after the game, “in all my years playing baseball, have I seen a game end like that.”
There is no guarantee that the Astros win the game if Cabrera doesn’t score on the wild pitches, of course.
But it’s worth noting that rookie reliever Mauro Zarate was waiting to enter the game to pitch for the Marlins in the 13th inning. If you’re asking, “who?” that’s OK. Zarate had never pitched in a big league game, and only made four appearances in the bigs his entire career, all in 2007, allowing three homers and six earned runs in five innings.
Posey, the Giant
Posey, of course, did wind up with the Giants. You know that by looking at World Series results.
He helped lead the club to the 2010 World Series title as a rookie, adding the Rookie of the Year award to his mantle despite playing only 108 games in the bigs (he hit .349 in Triple-A to force his eventual call-up). In 2012, Posey won the NL MVP and led the Giants to another World Series title. Then, in 2014, Posey and the Giants did it again, knocking out their third championship in a five-year span. He wasn’t the only reason San Francisco won those titles, but the Giants don’t win them without Posey.
And, for that matter, without another guy the club picked up in the 2008 draft — Brandon Crawford. Every team passed on him multiple times, though. Crawford, a shortstop from UCLA, was picked in the fourth round, the 117th overall pick. He joined the club in 2011 and was a big part of the 2012 and 2014 titles.
Posey, though, was the catalyst. He still is the catalyst. He sat out the 2020 season during the pandemic, primarily because he and his wife adopted infant twin girls. The uncertainties of potential health risks to the babies made sitting out an easy choice. He came back in 2021 like he’d missed a few days, not an entire season. The Giants were at least five games over .500 every since month this season, and Posey, now 34, had a typical Posey season at the plate, batting .304 with a .390 on-base percentage, 140 OPS+ and 18 homers in 113 games.
And now, Posey and his Giants are back in the postseason, thanks to two historic days in August 2007, two wild pitches and two home runs.