Burrell's bat has been an asset for San Francisco Giants
SAN FRANCISCO - When the Tampa Bay Rays unceremoniously dumped Pat Burrell earlier this year, it wasn't clear whether the then-underachieving former Phillies leftfielder still had a career.
With the thunder in his bat apparently gone, there was little demand for an aging outfielder who, during the best of times, never quite excelled in the speed, defense or contact hitting departments.
But desperate to add some punch to their anemic offense, the San Francisco Giants gave Burrell a shot, signing him to a minor league contract with the hope he'd give them a productive bat off the bench.
And after a dreadful start in Tampa, Pat the Bat is back - back in the postseason for the first time since he led the parade down Broad Street.
Since coming to San Francisco, he's given the Giants the impact bat they'd coveted and helped catapult them to their first National League West title in 7 years and their only post-Barry Bonds era playoff appearance.
The Giants open the Division Series against the wild-card Atlanta Braves tonight at AT & T Park.
"For me it's very special," a champagne-soaked Burrell said Sunday during a clubhouse celebration after the Giants clinched the NL West title on the last day of the regular season with a 3-0 victory over San Diego.
"I wasn't sure where things were going and to get a chance to come here and play and be a part of this, it's kind of unbelievable."
Burrell hit 251 homers in 9 years with the Phillies, including 33 in 2008, when he helped lead them to a World Series title. But he'd fallen out of favor in Tampa, after homering just 16 times in parts of two seasons, and was hitting .202 with 28 strikeouts in 84 at-bats when the Rays let him go.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he didn't know what to expect when they signed Burrell.
"Once I saw him play a few games he forced the issue and forced himself into the [every day] lineup with the quality at-bats he gives you and the power he's displayed," Bochy said. "He saved us."
Since joining the team on May 29, Burrell hit .266 with 18 homers and 51 RBI. He's been their most clutch hitter, with seven homers giving the Giants a lead, and five coming in the eighth inning or later.
"Anybody could have had this guy, and look what he did for us," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "I don't know why Tampa let him go, but whatever they didn't see in him, we see it."
Burrell's resurgence is in many ways the story of the Giants, a team of second chances that combined secondhand parts it picked up on the cheap with untested prospects who developed ahead of schedule to augment stellar pitching in assembling a team that finished with the National League's second-best record.
"A year ago, I didn't have a job," said Huff, who signed with the Giants as a free agent at a time when, by his own admission, nobody else wanted him.
Huff led the team with 26 homers and 85 RBI.
Other key acquisitions include slugging outfielder Jose Guillen, and relievers Javier Lopez (4-2, 2.34 ERA) and Ramon Ramirez (1-0 0.67 ERA), among others.
Perhaps their biggest addition came by subtraction, with the trade of catcher Bengie Molina to the Texas Rangers for reliever Chris Ray. That paved the way for 23-year-old rookie of the year candidate Buster Posey (.305 average, 18 homers, 67 RBI) to become their everyday catcher.
And whatever the notoriously free-swinging Giants lacked in plate discipline, they more than made up for with personality.
Nevertheless, they are united by a common cause.
"If the common goal is winning, then it's easy to get together and play for the same [purpose]," Burrell said. "I think that's what happened here. We've got a bunch of guys that just want to win, period."
The pursuit of that goal has meant some players have had to accept lesser roles.
Aaron Rowand, who spent 2 years in Philadelphia before signing a free-agent contract with the Giants in 2008, has been inconsistent offensively and relegated to a part-time role with the emergence of centerfielder Andres Torres.
Rowand's playoff roster status in an overcrowded outfield has been the subject of speculation after he hit .230.
And although he's been among the most visible players cheering on his teammates in the dugout, it's clearly not the role he signed up for.
"It's difficult, no doubt about it, but when it's out of your hands all you can do is make the best of your situation," Rowand said.
For his part, Burrell's resurgence is especially sweet because he grew up in the Bay area, playing high school football against Tom Brady.
Burrell has been embraced by Giants fans, and after Sunday's game did a victory lap around the warning track, high-fiving fans along the way.
"These fans have been so incredible the way they've come out here and supported us," Burrell said.
"The city's going to be rocking" this week, he said in anticipation of the playoffs.
"Let's keep the party going."