Huff finds strength in native Texas
Having rooted for Ryan, Giants veteran one win from a title
ARLINGTON -- A favorite son from Texas who grew up worshiping Nolan Ryan and the Rangers returned home this weekend and made them cry on Sunday night.
They weren't tears of joy. Just the opposite.
Aubrey Huff's two-run homer in the third inning propelled his San Francisco Giants to a 4-0 victory over the Rangers, who are hanging by thread in the 106th World Series.
The Giants, now up 3-1 in this Series, need just one more win to send the favored Rangers home for the winter. Of the 44 teams holding 3-1 leads in the World Series, 38 have gone on to win a championship, and 24 of those clubs did so in five games. Only six teams have rebounded, the last being the Kansas City Royals, who overcame the deficit to oust St. Louis in 1985.
So for all of Aubrey Huff's friends and family members from Fort Worth among the 51,920 fans at Rangers Ballpark on Sunday -- including former presidents George W. and George H.W. Bush -- the veteran's homecoming has been bittersweet.
Not only did Huff's blast to right field silence the crowd, it also removed any momentum the Rangers might have gained with Saturday's 4-2 win after taking two losses in San Francisco.
It also gave amazing 21-year-old rookie left-hander Madison Bumgarner a chance to exhale en route to his eight shutout innings of three-hit ball.
"It's certainly special," Huff said, trying to subdue a rush of adrenaline. "It's always in the back of your mind -- you'd like to hit a big homer to put you ahead. It's pretty surreal right now."
Huff, 33, who signed a $2.5 million contract with San Francisco last offseason when no other team made a serious offer, grew up in Mineral Wells, Texas, about 40 minutes from Fort Worth.
Huff was 6 years old in 1983, when his dad was shot and killed in a workplace domestic dispute. Huff was raised by his mother, Fonda, and says he probably went to 100 games at the Rangers' old ballpark as well as the new stadium.
"I grew up watching Nolan Ryan pitch," Huff said. "He's a childhood idol of mine. I wanted to be a pitcher because of him. It turns out I didn't throw very well."
Many former Rangers players became Huff's favorites.
"I started watching Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez -- even in the days of Steve Buechele, Ruben Sierra, Julio Franco."
SENIOR CIRCUIT POWER
|Aubrey Huff||SF||2010 (4)|
|Eric Bruntlett||PHI||2008 (2)|
|Shawon Dunston||SF||2002 (6)|
|Jim Eisenreich||FLA||1997 (3)|
|Ryan Klesko||ATL||1995 (3, 4, 5)|
|Lonnie Smith||ATL||1992 (5)|
|Mike Davis||LA||1988 (5)|
|Kurt Bevacqua||SD||1984 (2, 5)|
|Dan Driessen||CIN||1976 (3)|
"I wanted to be a ballplayer," Huff said he told his mother, who worked in the meat department of a local Winn-Dixie, when he was 9. "And that I wanted a batting cage so that I could perfect my batting. Somehow, she scraped together $2,500 for a batting cage and set it up in the backyard. Then, she bought a pitching machine."
Huff remembers spending every free moment in the cage.
"She even put up lights so I could do it at night," Huff added. "She was a single mom raising two kids, and to buy me that cage -- I think she did it more to keep me out of trouble. I don't think she realized how much I worked hard in that thing every day. I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you if it weren't for her making that decision."
Huff said people "kind of made fun of me for thinking I would get to the Major Leagues, but my mother always believed in me -- even when I wasn't very good. She had no reason to believe I'd make it, but she did. It was baffling."
Huff spent much of his career with Tampa Bay, making more recent stops at Houston, Baltimore and Detroit.
The Giants needed a left-handed bat last offseason. That's why they took a chance on the Huff nobody wanted.
"My biggest concern was defense," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who has used Huff mostly at first base and left field. "He claims to be the best athlete on the team, if you talk to him, but he has done a great job wherever we put him. Frankly, he has stabilized our lineup.
"I'll say this: He's a better player than I even thought he was. He's been just great."
Huff is batting .357 and has driven in four runs in the World Series. On Sunday night, as Bochy tweaked his lineup, Huff was the designated hitter.
Even Bochy calls his Giants "a bunch of misfits."
I call the Giants a team of destiny.
They weren't supposed to win this World Series, but they have seized the moment.
Sunday night's game was a glaring example.
The Giants refused to let the Rangers even the Series. And Huff was able to put aside for now the significance of his homecoming.
"I really haven't had a chance to enjoy it, to be honest with you," Huff said. "There will be time for that later."
For now, the business at hand is figuring out a way to keep Cliff Lee and the Rangers from getting back in this Series.
If not, there will be a lot more tears shed. And a hometown boy will be big reason for that.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.