(Reuters) - It is no coincidence that the return of Buster Posey to the San Francisco Giants lineup after missing most of last season with an injury has led to their return to the World Series.
The 25-year-old catcher might be one of the youngest and smallest players on the Giants but there is no doubt that he is the heartbeat of a team just four wins away from their second Major League Baseball (MLB) championship in three seasons.
In his 2010 rookie season, Posey played an integral role in helping the Giants win their first World Series in almost half a century.
He was named rookie of the year and started 2011 the same way he finished the previous season before a sickening collision with the Florida Marlins' Scott Cousins ended his campaign.
Posey suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments in his ankle. He had two screws inserted in his leg during surgery to repair the damage and did not play again all year.
Without Posey, the Giants crumbled and missed the playoffs. The team's pitchers, who he marshaled so well from behind the plate, struggled and the runs started to dry up for the batters.
But Posey returned this year as though nothing had happened. He was behind home plate in June when Matt Cain became the first Giant to pitch a perfect game and he was even more lethal with the bat in his hand.
When team mate Melky Cabrera took himself out of the running for the National League batting title after getting hit with a 50-game doping ban, Posey took the honors with an MLB-best .336 batting average while belting 24 home runs and 103 RBIs.
Posey became the first catcher to win the NL batting title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942 and was a runaway winner of this season's NL Comeback Player of the Year award. He is among the leading candidates to win the MVP award as well.
"I think after an injury like that, it's just nice to be back on the field," he recently told reporters. "And then to be recognized not only for your accomplishments, but really for just being back in action, it's nice."
Posey, whose boyish looks and unassuming demeanor have made him a huge hit with Giants' fans, has not been quite as consistent in the postseason but has delivered when it mattered.
In the decisive fifth game of their divisional series versus the Cincinnati Reds, Posey smashed a grand slam that all but sealed the series-clinching game for the Giants.
"He's a leader on this club," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "He leads by example."
(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Frank Pingue)