10/22/12 2:18 AM ET
Belt in the middle of another Giants rally
By Jay Lee / MLB.com
All of that seemed to be a distant memory Sunday night when the 24-year-old first baseman sparked yet another pivotal Giants rally in Sunday's 6-1 win in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series to keep the Giants' postseason run alive. Belt led off the second inning with a towering shot to right field for a standup triple that ignited a four-run inning. It has become a common theme in the series for the Giants' No. 6 hitter.
In Game 1 of the series, all four of the Giants' runs came in a fourth-inning rally, with the first two coming on Belt's two-out single to center. In the next game, Belt's one-out double to left started a similar four-run fourth inning that led to the Giants' first win at home this postseason.
And though Belt went a combined 0-for-6 with three strikeouts when the series shifted to St. Louis, he was back at it again at AT&T Park Sunday night, later contributing another run in the bottom of the eighth after reaching with a single.
"I think it was something that I needed personally to keep my confidence level up," Belt said. "I'm trying to help the team as much as I can, and I was able to score two runs so I feel pretty good. We're going to go back at it tomorrow."
Back when the Giants were piecing together their 2010 World Series run, Belt was shooting up the Minor League ranks by posting eye-opening numbers. Between Class A San Jose, Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Fresno, Belt had a .352 batting average, .455 on-base percentage and .620 slugging percentage with 23 home runs, 112 RBIs and 99 runs.
After alternating between the Minors and the Giants in 2011, Belt is now at the tail end of his first full season in the Majors, and it has been an up-and-down year.
Belt struck out eight times in 20 at-bats during a six-game road trip in July that prompted manager Bruce Bochy to move third baseman Pablo Sandoval to first base and bench Belt, who he said needed to improve mentally than mechanically. In the month of July, Belt batted .186 with 30 strikeouts in 70 at-bats.
But Belt's time on the bench didn't last long after Sandoval strained his hamstring while manning first base on July 24, and Belt responded by batting .349 in the month of August. He cooled slightly in September, batting .316 with 16 RBIs, the most of any month in his career.
"Your entire life, you dream of being in the big leagues," Belt said. "When you get here, you want to be successful, and when you have tough times, it's hard. ... But you have to keep fighting and then you get to a point where you're comfortable up there and you're confident. I think I've finally reached that point. Hopefully I won't have to look back."
And it's no real surprise that Belt has been excelling in front of the Giants faithful that stuck with him through his struggles this season. Giants play-by-play announcer Duane Kuiper's comment that Belt "looked like he just fell out of the mama giraffe" led to his nickname "Baby Giraffe," which has led droves of fans to purchase giraffe hats to sport during games.
Earlier this season, Giants fans took to social media to start a #FreeBelt campaign to urge Bochy to break up the Belt-Brett Pill platoon at first and give Belt more consistent at-bats. The Giants obliged in early June when they optioned Pill to Triple-A, giving Belt a chance to prove his worth as an everyday first baseman.
His production at home has continued a regular-season trend. Belt batted significantly better at AT&T Park (.315) than on the road (.237), which he attributed to the home-field advantage provided to him by Giants fans.
"They put a lot of pressure on the opposing team and the opposing pitchers," Belt said. "We've been fortunate enough to get enough balls over the plate that we've been able to handle. On the road, they seem to be pretty fine and don't seem to be missing pitches when they have their fans behind them, and they really pinpointed pitches. It's hard to hit when they do that."
Whatever the reason, Belt has found himself relishing his role in the middle of pivotal rallies.
"It means a lot to me personally," Belt said. "Sometimes you get in situations where you're the guy who can get a lot of RBIs, but sometimes you're the guy who is leading off innings. Lately for me, I've been the guy who has been leading off these rallies and I really take pride in it. If I can spark a little rally, I feel like I did my job for the day. You feel more a part of the team when you do that, so it's been exciting."
Jay Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.