SAN FRANCISCO — The epiphany hit Aubrey Huff hard this past offseason, when the San Francisco Giants were the only team to offer him a major league contract, when several other accomplished hitters had to accept minor league deals or didn't get a deal at all.
"I knew if I didn't have a good season this year, it's over," said Huff, seated in the Giants' clubhouse before their 10-2 victory over the Orioles in Monday's series opener. "I looked at the offseason free-agent market this year, and Hank Blalock couldn't get a job, Jermaine Dye still doesn't have a job. I knew if I didn't produce this year, it's conceivable that it could be it for me. I want that one playoff series. I want that one World Series and I could be happy for the rest of my life. I don't need five. I'd be perfectly happy with one."
Huff signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Giants this offseason after the Orioles, in need of corner infielders, showed no interest in a reunion. He has been reinvigorated with his new club, which is 1 1/2 games behind the San Diego Padres for first place in the National League West.
Huff, 33, has been a big part of the Giants' success with a .296 average, 10 homers, 34 RBIs and 33 walks. After getting off to a slow start, which he attributed to putting too much pressure on himself to impress his new teammates and getting too home run-happy, Huff has batted .324 (45-for-139) with eight home runs and 24 RBIs in 40 games since May 1. Meanwhile, his former team gets no production from the first base position.
It's the best stretch for Huff since he hit .304 with 32 homers and 108 RBIs and was named the Most Valuable Oriole in 2008.
He also hasn't hurt San Francisco defensively as manager Bruce Bochy has used him at first base and in left and right field.
"I have to tell you, it's been a breath of fresh air," said Huff, who went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly Monday. "I've obviously been on the losing end of the American League East for the last nine years. It's been frustrating over the years, and it starts affecting you mentally. There were some times there toward the end of my Baltimore years, I was like, 'How much more can you take?' I was getting really beat up mentally. I started wondering, at my age, how much longer I could handle it. Then I came over here. This is the only team that offered me a contract, and I'm glad they did. I'm loving it over here."
Huff played nearly three full seasons with the Orioles before they traded him in August to the Detroit Tigers for minor league reliever Brett Jacobson. Huff, who started his career with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, has never started the season with a team that finished with a winning record.
He has been traded twice to teams in the middle of a pennant chase, but both teams, the 2006 Houston Astros and the 2009 Tigers, came up short, with Detroit falling in a one-game playoff with the Minnesota Twins last year. After the Tigers were denied a playoff berth, Huff, who hit just .189 for Detroit in 40 games, joked to former Orioles teammates that he was a curse.
He remains very close to several Orioles, including reliever Matt Albers, also his teammate in Houston, and outfielder Nick Markakis. When Huff arrived at AT&T Park on Monday, he immediately headed across the field to the Orioles' dugout to hug hitting coach Terry Crowley and first base coach John Shelby and greet several of his former teammates.
He acknowledged he has plenty of empathy for the majors-worst Orioles and holds no animosity toward the club.
"You never want to see something like that over there," he said. "You look over there and you kind of feel bad, knowing a lot of other teams in the division are so much better and spending so much more money. You just can't compete with that. You have a lot of young players over there that just don't have a lot of veteran guys to protect them. It's a hard situation to win when you are going against the best in baseball and you're bringing a lot of young guys up and you expect them to save the franchise."
Huff said he remains confident in some of the Orioles' young players and his former teammates such as Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Adam Jones, but he believes people need to give them time to develop.
"I just don't think people understand how hard that division is, especially when you're throwing a team out there of primarily 27-and-under guys every day," he said. "They're not facing any scrubs out there. You're facing Cy Young candidates every day. I dealt with it. I know what it's like. It can be very frustrating, especially when you are not winning. Some guys got up there after having a pretty good year, and they were expected to carry the team all by themselves. It's just not the way it works. Even your best young players need to have a supporting cast of veteran guys to kind of take the pressure off a little bit."
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