A year after he had trouble simply walking, Buster Posey ran away with the National League Most Valuable Player award.
Posey on Thursday joined Johnny Bench and Thurman Munson as the only catchers in MLB history to win a Rookie of the Year award, a World Series title and an MVP award, and it wasn't even close. Posey received 27 of 32 first-place votes and had 422 points, easily outdistancing Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, the reigning MVP who finished with 285 points. No player other than Posey had more than three first-place votes.
"It's extremely humbling and gratifying," Posey said.
The Giants' cleanup hitter bounced back from a career-threatening ankle injury in May 2011 to excel at the plate and behind it for a team that ran away with the National League West title and won a second World Series championship in three years. He hit 24 homers, drove in 103 runs and batted .336 to become the first catcher since 1942 to win the N.L. batting title.
On Thursday, Posey said he was happy that he simply got to continue playing the game he loves.
"I've seen that it can be taken away quickly," he said. "Hopefully I can continue to embrace the game and enjoy it. That was my mindset, to enjoy being out there. You just try to appreciate each minute that we're out there."
The Giants were appreciative that, when they needed him most, Posey put the team on his shoulders. He set the tone on Aug. 15 when No. 3 hitter Melky Cabrera was suspended for use of a banned substance, gritting his teeth and stating, "We have to approach the rest of the year with a chip on our shoulders."
Posey backed up his words. He started 27 straight games from Aug. 24 (nine days after Cabrera was suspended) until Sept. 22, the day the Giants clinched the N.L. West. Posey hit .356 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 18 runs during the stretch as the Giants went 19-8 and turned a close division race with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers into a rout.
"He is establishing himself as one of the premier athletes in baseball today," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. "His leadership and ability to produce offensively and play solid defense behind the plate makes him one of the most exciting players in either league."
Posey's dominant season-ending stretch came in a second half in which he hit .385 with 14 homers and a 1.102 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). In the season's first half, Posey caught Matt Cain's perfect game and was selected as the starting catcher in the All-Star Game, receiving an N.L. record 7.6 million votes.
For the Giants, the most important number might have been 143, as in the number of starts that Posey made a year after his future as a catcher was left in doubt. Posey had suffered a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in his left ankle during a home plate collision with Scott Cousins on May 25, 2011.
Months of extensive rehab got him back on the field in time for spring training this season, but manager Bruce Bochy thought the comeback would be limited to 100 to 110 total appearances. Posey -- often playing through discomfort -- blew by that number, starting 111 as a catcher, 29 at first base and three more as the designated hitter. He appeared in 148 games total.
"To go through what he's gone through over the past year and then do what he did in 2012, not many people can do that," Bochy said. "He's so valuable with the way he catches, handles the staff and hits cleanup while handling all that's thrown at him."
The only things being thrown at Posey right now are awards to fill an overflowing trophy case. He already had been named the Comeback Player of the Year and the winner of the Hank Aaron Award, given to the league's best hitter.
On Thursday, Posey added baseball's most prestigious individual award to a resume that could one day place him in the Hall of Fame. Posey is the first catcher to win the N.L. MVP award since Bench in 1972 and became the seventh Giants player to win.
At 25 years old, Posey is the youngest N.L. MVP since Ryne Sandberg in 1984. He celebrated the award in his hometown of Leesburg, Ga., surrounded by family members and friends who had come to help with a charity event that Posey's mother was hosting at a transitional learning center.
"It's tough to put into words," Posey said. "It's an accomplishment that is shared with the whole Giants organization. I couldn't be more honored to have my name alongside the previous winners."
Follow Alex Pavlovic on Twitter at twitter.com/AlexPavlovic.
More MVP numbers
27: Straight games started from Aug. 24 through Sept. 22, the day the Giants clinched the N.L. West
2: Number of previous Giants (Willie Mays, Barry Bonds) who had won batting title and MVP in one season
3: Catchers who have won the N.L. batting title since 1876
70: Years since a catcher had won the N.L. batting title
7,621,370: Votes in All-Star balloting, an N.L. record
100 to 110: Total number of games manager Bruce Bochy thought Posey could play a year after surgery
148: The actual number
1: Number of perfect games caught
8: Giants' final lead in N.L. West standings
27: First-place votes (out of 32) received by Posey in MVP voting
422: Points in MVP balloting, far outdistancing Ryan Braun (285)