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Giants may be green, but are still formidable foe for Phillies

ATLANTA - You look at the San Francisco lineup and you see a bunch of gamers, baseball lifers, players who know how to win. What you don't see is much star power or postseason experience.

ATLANTA - You look at the San Francisco lineup and you see a bunch of gamers, baseball lifers, players who know how to win. What you don't see is much star power or postseason experience.

Certainly, when you compare the Giants' regular eight with the Phillies' regular eight, there really is no comparison. The Phillies have All-Stars all over the field. The core has been together for three extended postseasons and two World Series.

All of which might mean something when the National League Championship Series begins Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. Or it could mean absolutely nothing.

You can't take postseason experience or All-Star appearances into the batter's box or on to the field. You can just deal with what's next. And that is precisely what the Giants have done to get this far.

If there is one player who exemplifies what these Giants are, it might be first baseman Aubrey Huff III. He had played in 1,479 games without experiencing the postseason - until last week. That had been the third-longest streak among active players in the majors, ahead of the Phillies' Mike Sweeney (1,454).

And there was Huff on Sunday night in the ninth inning at Turner Field, staring out at tough Atlanta lefthander Mike Dunn, down in the count 0-1, the National League Division Series tied, 1-1, his team trailing the game, 2-1, two outs and runners on first and second. Huff singled to rightfield. The game was tied. The Giants got the winning run a moment later and won the series the next night.

Like so many of his teammates, Huff is a self-made player who has not been interested in no for an answer.

In December 1983, when Huff was 6, his father, Aubrey Jr., an electrician in an apartment complex, was killed as an innocent bystander in a domestic dispute.

When he was 9, Huff asked his mother for a batting cage, telling her he was going to play in the major leagues. She got the $2,500 for the cage.

From Vernon College in North Texas to the powerhouse program at the University of Miami, to the bad version of the Tampa Bay Rays through Houston, Baltimore and Detroit, Huff has been a professional hitter. When he landed in San Francisco this year, nobody saw him as a game-changer. And he hasn't been. He has just been part of a group that loves to play the game.

"We're a group of characters," Huff said Monday night in the Giants clubhouse after the clinching celebration began to quiet down. "You look at Timmy [Linceum], man, he's got the long hair, [closer Brian] Wilson with the beard. This is just a bunch of idiots, just crazy enough to maybe pull this thing off, man."

Huff is not only in the playoffs. He is on one of the four teams still playing.

"My last 10 years, I've been on the couch watching these guys [in the postseason], wondering how the hell you have energy to do what you're doing," Huff said "Now, I get it. It's just a constant adrenaline rush every day. Adrenaline gets you through nerves. You're not human if you don't get nervous for games like this."

Huff is the most accomplished hitter among the Giants' regulars. Go down the career numbers and there are a lot of .250 and .260 hitters. Rookie catcher Buster Posey and second baseman Freddy Sanchez are the only regulars flirting with .300.

"It seems like we wait these starters out," Huff said. "Work the counts, get some walks, pop one."

Going into 2010, the player with the most playoff experience was Edgar Renteria (55 games). And he's a backup. Sanchez had played 844 games without appearing in the playoffs.

Aaron Rowand (also a backup these days) and shortstop Juan Uribe were on the 2005 White Sox championship team. And there is Pat Burrell, dumped by Tampa Bay and picked up by the Giants to, manager Bruce Bochy said, "be a pinch-hitter to come off the bench. But the way he played, he forced himself into the lineup."

All Burrell did in 96 games for the Giants was hit 18 homers and drive in 51 runs. And he did have those 17 postseason games, all with the Phillies, culminating with his final Phils at-bat, setting up the winning run in the 2008 World Series clincher.

"It's nice to have a group of unselfish players who have one agenda, and that is to get to postseason," Bochy said. "There is no complaining. They accepted their roles, which they probably weren't real happy about, and you don't want them to be. But they kept working. They kept going about their business in a professional way. And we did tweak the lineup quite a bit during the season. But there was never any complaining. Like I said, guys just set aside their own agenda or ego and asked what was best for the club, and that's what it took to get here."

All of this got the Giants through the National League West, which they won on the last day of the season by beating San Diego. And it got them through Atlanta, which played without regulars Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, as well as closer Billy Wagner. Each game in the Braves series was decided by one run.

And that is the Giants way. This lineup simply will not overpower anybody. Position player by position player, they will not match up with the Phillies. But they can pitch it and they can catch it. So far, that and the resilience of the everyday lineup have gotten them to within eight wins of the franchise's first World Series championship since 1954 when they were still in New York and Willie Mays was young.

It is quite a nice baseball story. And it will get quite a bit tougher from here.