Some managers would melt down if their Cy Young Award winner suddenly lost the ability to get people out. Pfft! Just like that.
Other managers would implode if they had to carry a veteran pitcher with one of the worst contracts in the history of baseball and who made $20-million a year for doing not much of anything right. Or if a potential batting champion, Melky Cabrera, were plucked from the lineup forever after failing a drug test.
And don’t get us started on closer Brian Wilson being toast from April on.
Saddled with all these issues, Bruce Bochy has ridden the San Francisco Giants into Sunday’s National League Championship Series. And don’t look now, but the big-headed (cap size: a Shrek-like 8 1/8) and big-hearted former backup catcher with aching, old catcher’s knees, and salami fingers, could be on the verge of moving into the pantheon of managers.
A 57-year-old army brat who was born in Landes de Boussac, France, and raised in Melbourne, on Florida’s Space Coast, Bochy leads all active managers with 18 consecutive seasons in charge of a dugout. From 1995-2006, Bochy managed the San Diego Padres, taking the team to the 1998 World Series, where they lost in four consecutive games to the New York Yankees. Bochy replaced Felipe Alou as manager of the Giants in 2007, taking over in the maw of Barry Bond’s pursuit of the all-time home run record, surviving the freak show with dignity (and contract) intact.
When the Giants beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-4 on Thursday, much was made of how they became the first NL team to come back from a 2-0 disadvantage and win a best-of-five division series since the format was adopted in 1995. The bigger story was that Bochy’s Giants have done it without the type of stellar pitching usually associated with them.
The Giants were fifth in the NL in starters’ ERA and, uh, eighth in bullpen ERA, but they also had the highest save percentage in the NL. Yet their 30 one-run wins were the second most in the majors behind the Reds, while their 26-11 (.703) road winning percentage post-All-Star break was the best in the majors.
Translation: They won a lot of games with the other team having the last at-bat.
Implication: Since the most significant measure of a manager’s success is his ability to use the bullpen, Bochy is one of the best in the game. He has to be. “The balls-to-the-wall type scenario,” is how Giants closer Sergio Romo describes the team’s 2012 experience.
Tim Lincecum, Bochy’s two-time Cy Young winner, set a career high in losses, runs allowed, home runs and walks this season, and had a career-low in innings pitched (186) and strikeouts (190.) His Romero-esque ERA, 5.18, drove his career ERA more than a third of a run higher, to 3.31 from 2.98.
Barry Zito, who was not on the postseason roster in 2010 when the Giants beat the Texas Rangers in the World Series, was 7-0 (3.92 ERA) in his last 11 starts this season. That was enough to earn a start in Game 4, but Zito lasted 2 2/3 innings and Bochy called on Lincecum out of the bullpen. Lincecum responded, striking out six and issuing no walks in 4 1/3 innings in the Giants’ 8-3 win.
Far from merely accepting his role, Lincecum actually talked it up, saying: “You don’t have to pace yourself like you do as a starter, you just go out there and get outs until they tell you you’re done.”
Bochy will likely put Lincecum back in the rotation for the NLCS, then go back to the old mix and match that worked all year. One of Bochy’s relievers, Jeremy Affeldt, says his boss seems to have viewed the regular season as practice for the playoffs.
Two trips to the World Series as a manager, seven postseason appearances in total, including one as a player – why wouldn’t Bochy view the postseason as something of a rite?