SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Matt Cain will be on the mound just more than a week after signing his splashy new six-year contract worth $127.5 million. Yes, that's a big deal for San Francisco — financially and otherwise.
Still, when Buster Posey squats into that familiar catcher's crouch for his first counting home game since a devastating collision at the plate late last May cost him the season, more than 40,000 in the sellout crowd at AT&T Park will be eagerly watching his every move and breathing a collective sigh of relief.
He's back, at last. It's for real. Even if Posey is being slowed by a bout of shingles.
"The rehab is over," Posey said in declaring himself 100 percent ready for the rigors of a 162-game season.
And bearded closer Brian Wilson feels the same way. He plans to race out from the bullpen to his regular tune of "Jump Around" to pitch the ninth inning whenever he gets the chance after missing time late last year with elbow trouble.
There is no lack of intrigue as the Giants return to their waterfront ballpark for the home opener Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And San Francisco is determined to get through the fanfare of this one much like it wanted to do to on a far grander scale last spring as reigning World Series champions.
San Francisco is off to a slow start, and will look at this homestand with the Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies as a chance to get on track.
Posey will be cheered from every direction — probably even more praise than he already received last week for an exhibition game with the Oakland Athletics. Fans erupted and jumped to their feet when he ran in left field before first pitch to warm up his legs, and again when he took his position behind the plate, then each time in stepped in to hit.
"He's our core guy. He's our core guy in the middle of the lineup and we missed him last year," Cain said. "We missed him on the offensive side and, as a staff, we missed him behind the plate. We're looking forward to Buster being back and healthy."
The 2010 NL Rookie of the Year is loved in this city, the catcher's catchy moniker no doubt helping his cause to become a household name. Posey's long journey back from three torn ligaments in his left ankle and a broken bone in his lower leg was grueling, something the fans seem to appreciate as he tries to return to the top form that helped lead the Giants to an improbable championship in 2010.
"That was quite a special moment. You could feel all the energy in the crowd," Wilson said of the reception for Posey last week. "And it was well-deserved. Buster has battled. He's come back healthy. And he's checked off every box he can to alleviate any doubt. He's ready to rock. He's ready to go."
Posey has long felt good about his swing since he began taking regular batting practice again last fall, and showed he is plenty comfortable when he hit a two-run homer in the Giants' loss at Arizona last Sunday.
Cain takes the mound Friday happy to have his contract status settled for years to come. He is signed through the 2017 season with an option for '18.
"Yeah, it's relief. I definitely have a lot more time here and that's awesome," he said. "I'm looking forward to it. I think we have that energy. All the guys are feeling good and excited. It was really cool to see how much (of a reaction) it got from fans and from my teammates. They're so excited and it pumps you up. And it makes you ready for the season."
Ace Tim Lincecum, who has struggled so far, is thrilled to have the team intact again. How the Giants do this season and next could ultimately determine whether The Freak stays put beyond the $40.5 million, two-year contract he agreed to in January.
He wants to get back to the playoffs after the Giants missed last year. They expect to contend with the Diamondbacks for the NL West title now that the team is finally healthy again.
"It's good to have those guys back," Lincecum said. "We know that Cain's going to be here. We know we're going to have some guys here. The way we're built, we're young and have guys with time and options."
This weekend, all eyes again will be on Posey.
Locking up Posey for the long haul will be among the top things on general manager Brian Sabean's to-do list at some point.
For now, Posey will continue to enjoy the steps in what became an incredibly tough process to get back — enjoying the support from San Francisco's loyal followers.
"Could I see it? Sure," Posey said of staying here long-term. "But, like you said, it's early. It's hard to say if it'll happen or not, but yeah, I could see it. I would love to."