PHILADELPHIA — Maybe for Pat Burrell this is best, to just stare his stare and act like it never happened.
Because the way Burrell has helped lead the Giants into this year's World Series with his bat, his glove, his leadership and his clubhouse presence is very similar to how he helped lead the Phillies for years and then into the 2008 Series.
And nothing like the miserable way he spent the 1¼ seasons in between with the Rays doing none of the above.
"I don't want to dwell too much on that," Burrell answered when asked at an NL Championship Series news conference. "But obviously getting a chance to come out here and play, I think, was a big thing for me. You know, obviously starting with a different team and having it turn out the way it did is not what you hoped for obviously. But I got a chance, the Giants gave me an opportunity to come out here and play, and I just tried to make the most of it."
Approached several times during the NLCS to talk more about what went wrong during his time with the Rays, Burrell, 34, either ignored the request or declined cordially. Even after Saturday's pennant-clinching win over the Phillies, he refused comment — again politely — to the Times.
Burrell, though, has a lot of explaining to do. He was, in a polite assessment, horrible with the Rays, hitting just .218 with 16 homers and 77 RBIs in 146 games over two seasons with little impact — at least positively — in their clubhouse.
But since being cut loose by the Rays and picked up by the Giants, he has starred, hitting .266 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs in 96 regular-season games while playing a good-enough leftfield to start all 10 playoff games and earning rave reviews for his leadership and clubhouse presence.
"Pat is the epitome of a great teammate," outfielder Cody Ross said. "I have so much respect for him. He's a true, true leader."
The consensus answer is that it was Burrell's inability to adjust to the DH role that he willingly signed up and took $16 million for from the Rays.
Burrell has acknowledged his frustration but still addresses it as if it is somewhat of a mystery, saying he exhausted all kinds of techniques and adjustments, even watching the game on TV and simulating his actions as if he were playing the outfield.
"I wish I knew the answer, because it probably would have worked out differently down there," Burrell said at the news conference, when he had to answer. "For me it has to have something to do with being in the flow of the game, playing in the field, being active in the game. I think that's a huge part of it for me. I'm not saying that that's right or wrong. I think just for me that was an important part of it."
But just as players and coaches close to Burrell insist they weren't surprised to see him rebound once he returned to the National League, they say they knew — and he knew — his new role with the Rays was going to be a problem.
"I told him, and I think he knew it, too; he's not cut out for DH," said former Phillies and current Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand, suggesting friendship may be thicker than blood since he is first cousins with Rays starter James Shields.
"Some guys have a knack for being a DH and some guys don't. Some guys have to be involved in the game to be productive and play. Pat's one of those guys, and I think he knew it even before he went to Tampa. We talked about it. We talked about it the night before he signed."
Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino said he knew — "for a fact" — that Burrell "hates to DH."
So why would he take the job?
"He didn't have many options," Victorino said. "Pat wanted to play. Obviously if he had a chance to play in the National League, I'm sure he would have. But I think that was his best offer at that time. And he took it."
Rays officials expected there to be an adjustment but enticed by the potential of a right-handed bat with power and patience, they felt it was a positive gamble.
(Plus, they expected him to have a huge impact in their clubhouse. Instead he had a loud confrontation with Carl Crawford in the clubhouse, raised concerns among people in the organization that rising star Evan Longoria was hanging around him too much, and didn't appear to buy into their relaxed atmosphere manager Joe Maddon prefers.)
"It was a risk factor," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said last week. "It was something we talked about with Pat before signing him. Both sides went into it with their eyes open. … Both sides approached their relationship with the best of intentions. It clearly didn't work out with us, but we're happy for the success he's having with the Giants."
Not as happy as the Giants are.
When the Rays finally gave up and released Burrell in mid May, the Giants spent nearly two weeks deciding — even though it would cost them only about $300,000, with the Rays picking up the rest of his $9 million salary — whether he was worth bringing in, and they only did when he agreed first to a short stint at Triple A.
The time at home with his future in doubt may have humbled Burrell. Or inspired him. He told Ross he just hoped for another chance with an NL team because "I've still got it in me."
He "shocked" Giants officials by reporting to Fresno in tremendous shape and impressed them with his bat speed, general manager Brian Sabean said. They brought him up less than a week later to be a pinch-hitter, but he quickly worked his way into the lineup, delivering the kind of quality at-bats and clutch hits the Rays envisioned.
"This guy's been more than a pleasant surprise," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Not just with his play, but also who he is, how he's helped out in that clubhouse."
"He's made," Sabean said, "a big difference."
To both teams, in a way.
"It's kind of amazing how Tampa Bay gave up on him," said former Ray Aubrey Huff, also enjoying a renaissance with the Giants. "I don't know what happened over there, I don't know the situation. But I guess some people's garbage is another man's treasure. And we'll certainly take him."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]s.com.