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The two defending league champions, New York and Philadelphia, breezed through the first round without a loss or the slightest worry. The Yankees swept the Twins in a series that amounted to little more than calisthenics. The Phillies allowed the fewest hits ever in a three-game sweep, 11, with Halladay crafting his Ode to Nothingness in Game 1. So sharp was Halladay that he threw just 25 balls to 28 batters, including four to Reds outfielder Jay Bruce in the fifth inning, the only plate appearance that prevented Halladay from matching the perfect game by Larsen for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series. Halladay, who led the NL in wins (21), innings (250 2/3) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.3) and is almost certain to win his second Cy Young Award, has made such brutal efficiency almost to be expected whenever he takes the mound. He tossed a perfect game against the Marlins in May; the masterpiece against the Reds made him the fifth pitcher in history and first since Nolan Ryan in 1973 to throw two no-hitters in a season. "The only thing that was different about Doc in the no-hitter is that he was a little more amped up because of the crowd, because it was his first playoff game," said Phillies closer Brad Lidge. "So it made his good stuff even a little better."
In past years with Toronto, Halladay would always reserve the first two weeks of the off-season for doing nothing; they would be the only weeks Halladay allowed himself time off from training. He's glad to have work this time of year. Said backup catcher Brian Schneider, another veteran who made it to his first postseason, "I grew up in Allentown rooting for the Phillies and came here because I wanted to experience the playoffs. Roy and I have talked about that. We both wanted that. The atmosphere is electric. We made the right decision.
"When we clinched [the NL East] in Washington, Ryan Howard made sure Roy and Mike [Sweeney] and I got the first bottles of champagne. Three veterans going to the playoffs for the first time. That was classy. We got our fingers on those corks and popped 'em open. All three of us at the same time."
In San Francisco, when the past three seasons ended, Lincecum would take his hat and go home. (The righthander has worn the same sweat-stained cap every season of his four-year big league career and holds on to it during the off-season so as not to lose it.) But this year Lincecum, 26, was among 16 Giants on the 25-man roster who threw their hats into the postseason ring for the first time. On the day after Halladay pitched, Lincecum was nearly unhittable himself, allowing the Braves only two doubles, one to start the game by Omar Infante and another in the seventh by Brian McCann. So dominant was Lincecum that the Braves swung and missed 31 times at his pitches.
The Giants gave Lincecum a run in the fourth inning, and he made it stand. Talk about old-school pitching: Lincecum became just the sixth pitcher to throw a 1--0 shutout in his postseason debut, joining Bill James (1914), Johnny Sain ('48), Preacher Roe ('49), Wally Bunker ('66) and Mike Scott ('86). What's more, he did it with a catcher also making his postseason debut, Buster Posey. "It's great, just a relaxed feeling, telling each other, 'We've done this before, no big deal, come out and play the game,'" Lincecum said. "And throwing to Posey has been great for me. The guy is a student of the game. He just wants to get better and help us get better."
No one, though, seemed to bask in the postseason more than Huff. When asked if his game-tying single in Game 3 was the biggest hit of his career, Huff cracked a smile and said, "Do I even have to answer that? I don't think it was a double in a Devil Rays game in July one year."
Huff had the misfortune of being selected by Tampa Bay (then known as the Devil Rays) in the fifth round of the 1998 draft after two seasons of college ball at Miami. He reached the big leagues in 2000 and spent five full losing seasons with the Devil Rays before they traded him to Houston in July 2006. The Astros finished in second place in the NL Central that year, 1½ games back.
Huff then signed with Baltimore, where he logged two losing seasons before the Orioles shipped him to Detroit and into a pennant race last year. Alas, the Tigers and Huff were denied a playoff berth with a loss to Minnesota in a 163rd game.
Huff hit .241 overall in 2009, his worst season, and had difficulty last winter finding a job. As the off-season dragged and no team called, Huff considered the possibility of retirement. Finally, the Giants called—but only after free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche turned them down. "My agent said they had an offer for $3 million," Huff said, "and I knew there were still a bunch of first basemen out there, so just like that I said O.K. I knew a couple of things I wanted: I wanted to play for a team that was going to contend, and I had had enough of the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East. Whenever the playoffs were on, I would watch, but not if the Yankees or Red Sox were playing. I saw enough of them."
Huff turned out to be one of the biggest bang-for-the-buck signings of the winter. He led the Giants in home runs (26), RBIs (86) and clubhouse humor. On Aug. 31, for instance, worried that the Giants were uptight after losing four of their previous five games, Huff walked around the clubhouse wearing nothing but an anniversary gift from his wife: a rhinestone-studded red thong.