SAN FRANCISCO – Bruce Bochy mixed and matched the San Francisco Giants all the way to the World Series.
From Game 1 of the division series against Atlanta to the N.L. pennant clincher Saturday night in Philadelphia, Bochy’s moves have been right on this October.
How about those three double-switches he made in a Game 4 victory over the Phillies?
It seems all the close games the Giants played this season were good not only for the players but for Bochy, too.
“You certainly can’t drift mentally, that’s for sure, when you’re not putting a lot of runs on the board and playing these tight games,” Bochy said.
Now Bochy and his Giants have a chance to win it all – something this franchise hasn’t done since moving West in 1958. San Francisco will host World Series first-timer Texas in Game 1 on Wednesday night.
Bochy endured his share of playoff failure in the past. He had experienced little success this time of year until now, in his fourth season with San Francisco. Bochy lost 10 of his previous 11 postseason games while managing the Padres before this remarkable 2010 run by club he has referred to as “characters,” “castoffs” and “misfits.”
For all those amused by the former catcher’s slow shuffle to the mound or penchant for using veterans, there’s no question how much the 55-year-old Bochy cares about his players. Players appreciate knowing when they will be in the lineup or why they aren’t out there – and Bochy is known for communicating such things and having the tough conversations when necessary.
Take the decision to leave struggling $126 million starting pitcher Barry Zito off the roster for the first two rounds. Not an easy call. Or the midseason benching of underachieving outfielder Aaron Rowand, who behind Zito is the team’s second-highest-paid player.
“You set aside your own agenda and do what’s best for the team,” Bochy said. “That’s what it has to be at this point. Hopefully we have one priority, and that’s to win. These guys have done a great job with it.”
After 12 seasons with San Diego, Bochy got a fresh start in Northern California with the Giants in 2007, replacing Felipe Alou. Bochy’s first Giants team went 71-91 and the one after that finished 72-90. It was the 2009 squad that stayed in the wild card race until mid-September and showed this team was getting close to becoming a serious contender again.
When things go poorly along the way, Bochy doesn’t even like to go out in public, afraid of giving off the impression he’s satisfied and not focused on making things better.
Rowand, replaced in the starting lineup during the summer by longtime minor leaguer Andres Torres, acknowledges Bochy’s hand in how far the club has come.
Rowand started Games 3 and 4 of the NLCS for the slumping Torres, yet Rowand was replaced one batter after making a fabulous throw home to save a run in Game 4.
“We’re winning, so obviously he’s doing a good job, you know?” Rowand said. “I have a tough time rating managerial moves, but what he’s done has worked out and we’ve been winning ballgames. So, obviously, if you want to measure it by that, he’s doing a great job.”
Bochy has developed a reputation for favoring veterans over unproven youth along the way. Still, the Giants didn’t wait too long to make rookie Buster Posey their top catcher after he spent a short stint at first base until Bengie Molina was traded to Texas.
While general manager Brian Sabean gets credit for bringing in all the new faces – Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, calling up Posey and boosting the bullpen with relievers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez – it’s Bochy who had to work everybody in and strive for a balance.
That doesn’t always make you very popular.
“Boch has done a great job. It’s never talked about,” Sabean said. “For everything that he supposedly isn’t – we know he’s not outgoing and we know he’s not a fire and brimstone guy – you talk to the players and they have needed him this year maybe more than any other year. Whether it’s telling them when they’re going to play or not going to play or when things change, he’s upfront with them. That’s all they can ask for – consistency and being honest.”
And Bochy is first to credit the unselfishness of his players and their dedication to the one goal of winning. He has said he won’t allow himself to relish this postseason until it’s done and he’s home relaxing in San Diego.
“When you put together a club, hopefully you have guys who are unified. You have that chemistry,” Bochy said. “And that’s not something that just happens. You have to work at it. These guys do.”