SAN DIEGO -- Aubrey Huff can beat you with his bat and his surprising defensive ability. But on Friday night he beat the Padres with his legs. He's a player with an old-time attitude who might very well be the Most Valuable Player on the Giants squad this season. "It's been a fun run so far," Huff said after he scored the only run as the Giants edged the Padres, 1-0, at PETCO Park to pull within percentage points of first place in the National League West. "But to me it doesn't mean anything unless we make the playoffs." In 2009, he split the season with the Orioles and Tigers, batting .241 with 15 homers and 85 RBIs. But as a 33-year-old free agent, for most of this past winter he didn't have a place to play.
"I didn't really have a job until these guys called late in the offseason," he recalled. "I knew I had a lot in the tank. The summer has been very satisfying. But we still have a long way to go." Huff leads the team with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs in 137 games. His .291 batting average is the highest on the club for anyone who's played in more than 100 games. The Giants knew he could hit when they signed him to a one-year contract worth $3 million. But they weren't sure of his depth as a player. "I knew Aubrey was a good player," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I didn't know he was this good defensively. He did a good job when we used him in the outfield -- right field or left field. He really worked hard at first base. I know he was a DH a lot over [in the American League]. He took it upon himself to get the work in to make himself better." Huff has played in 80 games at first base this season and another 63 in the outfield. He's committed only three errors, all of them at first base. He hadn't played the outfield since 2006 when he was with the Astros, so his 1.000 fielding percentage out there is, let's say, unexpected. Huff, though, has never considered himself to be a one-dimensional player. "That's what you guys say," Huff said, pointing toward the media. "I've gotten that my whole life and you don't know where it comes from. You just roll with it and go out there and play. You don't worry about what everyone else thinks and says." Huff even has six stolen bases this season and his swipe of second with no one out in the seventh was a key play in a then-scoreless game. Huff was hit in the funny bone by Padres starter Clayton Richard to open the inning. After several pickoff attempts from reliever Luke Gregerson, Huff took off as Pat Burrell struck out, just beating the throw from Padres catcher Nick Hundley. "You know, Aubrey is pretty good over there, reading pitchers," Bochy said about Huff's baserunning ability. "He gets a good jump when he needs to and we let him go sometimes." Huff confirmed that Bochy gives him a green light to run at will. "I'm not a burner or anything," said Huff, who only has 31 steals in his 11-year career. "I have some good instincts about when to go and when not to. I don't have Darren Ford speed. When a pitcher is throwing 97 [mph] I'm not going to make it. I've got to pick my spots. Like tonight, it was perfect timing. We're struggling trying to score runs. I figured I'd take a chance." Running on contact minutes later as Jose Guillen grounded to short ahead of him could have been a big mistake. Huff barely beat Miguel Tejada's throw to third baseman Chase Headley, who was a split-second late making the tag. "It was actually a dumb play on my part," Huff said. "From where I was at, it looked like it was going to go into the hole. I thought he hit it a lot harder than he did. So once I went, you've got to go, you've got to get there. I headed to the inside of the bag and Headley was over to my right. I was safe. But it's not the way you draw it up. It was not a smart play." Huff scored when Juan Uribe barely beat out the back end of a ground-ball double play. It was the game's only run and once again Huff proved his value and versatility.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.