Bochy pulling all the right strings in return to Series
SAN FRANCISCO -- Manager Bruce Bochy led the Giants to their first World Series victory since 1954 only two years ago. It's hard to duplicate and surpass all that, but Bochy is on his way to doing it.The Giants are back in the World Series again this postseason, for the first time against the Tigers, his club having survived six elimination games in the first two rounds to accomplish that feat. Game 1 is Wednesday night in AT&T Park at 5 p.m. PT on FOX.
"Oh, this is right at the top," Bochy said on Tuesday when asked about the difficulty of traversing the maze his team has gone through this year. "You think you've seen it all in this game, but there's always something else. What these guys have done to get to this point, this is up there at the top."The Giants have survived much more than those half-dozen elimination games. And no matter what happens against Detroit in the best-of-seven series, an argument can be made that this is the best managing job Bochy has done since he joined the ranks of Major League skippers in 1995 with the Padres. The Giants began the season without closer Brian Wilson and never had second baseman Freddy Sanchez because of injuries. Buster Posey, his All-Star catcher and best player, was trying to come back from a seriously broken leg that cost him most of 2011. Bochy nursed Posey back during a season in which he won the NL batting title with a .336 average by resting him at times and playing him a first base. "He's the only manager I've ever played for, but I think he's the best at player management," Posey said on Tuesday when asked about Bochy. "For me, giving me some days off early and games at first was very helpful. And the way he's handled the bullpen after losing Wilson was remarkable." Bochy's one of the best in baseball at managing a bullpen. For almost all of his 12 years in San Diego he had the luxury of lining up relievers behind Trevor Hoffman, one of the best closers in history with 601 career saves. Ditto in 2010 when Wilson emerged as an elite closer with a league-leading 48 regular-season saves and six more in the postseason, including the clinching game of each playoff series. This season, as Wilson has recovered from Tommy John surgery, Bochy has employed the committee method to perfection, using Santiago Casilla to close at times, and when he faltered, Sergio Romo. The bullpen still amassed 53 saves, third in Major League Baseball. "Oh, Bochy has just been unbelievable. I mean, wow," said San Francisco's Game 1 starter Barry Zito, who was left off the postseason roster two years ago. "He gets the credit. He gets a lot of credit, but I think he's due even more. What I always talk about this year it's the way he handles the bullpen. For a team to go out there without a definite, definite closer most of the season, it's just unreal what's been going on. It's much easier on a manager when you have your obvious seventh-, eighth-inning set up guys, and your closer, and Bochy didn't have that luxury." When Melky Cabrera, the All-Star Game MVP at Kansas City and the NL's leading hitter, was banished for 50 games because of a positive drug test, the Giants continued winning. Hunter Pence had already been slotted in right via a trade with the Phillies and Gregor Blanco, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, was placed in left. Marco Scutaro, the MVP of San Francisco's just-concluded seven-game victory over the Cardinals, was also brought in around that time and filled the void left by Sanchez at second base. Even when the Dodgers reloaded by adding Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Brandon League, and made that huge Aug. 25 trade with the Red Sox that netted Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and an injured Carl Crawford, Bochy's Giants didn't miss a beat. They led the NL West that day over the Dodgers by two games and won the division title for the second time in three years, running away with it by eight games over Los Angeles. Bochy, with his unflappable demeanor, helped maintain the equilibrium. "He's an incredible motivator. A great players' coach," said Aubrey Huff, one of the few position players remaining from the 2010 team, whose role has been limited this season by personal and physical problems. "He's not the type of guy who's going to come into the clubhouse and throw things after a loss. He's always been so positive and open with the players. He's so good at communicating with each individual. He has that talent." In the end, the team Bochy will field this week is starkly different than the one that won the World Series in five games over Texas in 2010. Posey is the only player remaining from that starting lineup. Tim Lincecum, 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance during the '10 postseason, has hardly been the dominant pitcher after a 10-15, 5.18 ERA regular season. Bochy's two best starters this time around have been Zito, bouncing back from his 2010 demotion, and Ryan Vogelsong, who played in Japan back then. This year, Bochy has had to tell Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner that they would have reduced postseason roles. Bumgarner, 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA during the '10 postseason as a rookie, was dropped from the rotation in the NLCS. He's getting another shot at it with a start in Game 2 on Thursday. Bochy said that it's never easy to deliver bad news to a player "because you know how much he's hurting and maybe even embarrassed. You do think about his feelings." Zito, though, said he appreciates the honesty. "He's always handled me very professionally," Zito said. "He's always communicated. Sometimes the truth was not what I wanted to hear, but it was the truth, and other times he said things that felt good to me. He's always been just a great guy personally and a great manager from a player's perspective." Despite all these factors, Bochy has the Giants on the precipice of again winning the World Series. They haven't done that in the same proximate era since the Giants defeated the Yankees to win back-to-back titles in 1921-22 when all the games were played in New York's long-gone Polo Grounds, which was shared by both teams. Bochy's only other visit to the World Series as a manager was with the 1998 Padres, who were swept by the Yankees. As a player, he was the backup catcher on the San Diego club that lost in five games to the Tigers, the last time Detroit won the World Series. Each year is different, but Bochy knows that this season his club has to overcome a gamut of problems and injuries. "Really a lot of clubs can say that," Bochy said. "You have to deal with injuries or things that may happen, like Melky's situation. What's important, as I've said many times, is not that it happens; it's how you deal with it. These guys were focused forward. They never talked about it, they never dwelled on it, they never made excuses. Different guys helped pick us up when something did happen." It's not over and he's not the type of person to take much of the credit when it is -- win or lose. "It's all about the players," Bochy said. "I'm not just trying to shrug that off. I mean, it's great when you hear good things said about you, I guess. The players would feel the same. But you can't believe all the good things or the bad things, and that goes with managing, too."
Barry M. Bloom is a 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.