For Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt, the moment illustrating Bruce Bochy’s managerial acumen came Oct. 29 in Kansas City, in the hours before Game 7 of the World Series.
“He pulled me into the office,” Affeldt recalled, “and said, ‘I might have to go to you by the second or third inning. If need be, you need to be ready.’ And it actually happened.”
In six seasons with the Giants, the veteran left-hander had only entered a game before the fifth inning one time, in Game 6 of the 2010 National League Championship Series. But as starter Tim Hudson labored against the Royals, Bochy summoned Affeldt with two outs in the second inning. Ready, Affeldt pitched 21/3 scoreless innings and earned the victory as the Giants won their third World Series in five years.
That night in Kansas City likely secured Bochy a plaque in Cooperstown. He is one of 10 managers in major-league history with three World Series titles (the other nine are in the Hall of Fame) and one of five to win three championships in a span of five seasons.
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As in the celebratory wake of last year’s Game 7, Bochy, 59, is quick to credit his players and the organization. Questioning Bochy about his managerial success often elicits a deep-throated grumble over being asked about himself followed by a polite, if begrudging, answer.
It draws all the animation you usually see watching Bochy manage a game, staring out from under the bill of his notoriously large cap, his calm expression maybe – maybe – broken by an occasional grimace. Players say that calm infiltrates the clubhouse and is probably one reason the Giants have been so successful in the playoffs, whether marching in as division champions (2010, 2012) or sneaking in as a wild card (2014).
Though perhaps Bochy’s most visible characteristic, that calm is but the surface of a mind that, players say, is always working to give his team an edge. And asking the eight remaining Giants players who were part of all three World Series teams – except the departed Pablo Sandoval and including Matt Cain, who was injured last fall – about the best quality Bochy possesses as a manager draws responses much more varied than the typical Bochy game face.
For Affeldt, Game 7 showed how Bochy “thinks ahead.” Affeldt said he used to think Bochy managed his bullpen “by gut.” Now, he said, “I think it’s by scenarios and who’s available and who’s most fresh – he takes into account all those things, and by doing that he just seems like he’s always a step ahead of other managers.
“A lot of people say, ‘Man, he takes risks, and it works.’ I say, ‘Or he has it calculated out and understands how the game’s being played and has a feel for the game.’”
Bochy has cultivated a reputation for being willing to buck convention. In that Game 7, he summoned starter Madison Bumgarner in the fifth inning and let Bumgarner, three days after a complete-game shutout in Game 5, throw 68 more pitches in a five-inning save.
“He knows his players,” said Bumgarner, whose insistence on being ready to pitch Game 7 had been met with skepticism by some pundits. “He’s got good IQ, I guess you can say. He’s got a good sense about what he needs to do, and it’s not always by the book.”
It’s not always the easy move, either. In 2010, Bochy left scuffling left-hander Barry Zito and his $126 million contract off the postseason roster (Zito later played a pivotal role in the 2012 title run). In 2012, he removed Tim Lincecum, the Giants’ ace of 2010, from the playoff rotation.
In the three postseasons, Bochy has used three closers. Sergio Romo was a set-up man in 2010, struck out Miguel Cabrera to clinch the title in 2012, then returned to set-up duties last season as Santiago Casilla closed games.
“He puts us in positions where he knows we’re going to succeed,” Romo said. “He’s very aware of us; he’s very attentive. I’ve played a different role each time, and each time it’s been fitting for the bigger cause, for the greater cause.”
That feel seems to come from Bochy’s ability to cultivate relationships with his players. Casilla said that while some managers like to keep a distance from players, Bochy has “got always the door open, we can talk and we can joke. It’s like family.”
Reliever Javier Lopez said that communication level is “one of the things that separates (Bochy).” Lopez noticed it as soon as he was traded to the Giants from Pittsburgh in 2010.
“I’d never met the man and didn’t know what we were doing exactly,” Lopez said. “The communication started right then and there with, ‘Hey, this is why you’re coming in, this is what I expect of you.’
“I think he’s got a dry sense of humor; he’s witty. But when he’s serious, he locks it in. He’ll banter with anybody, but when it’s time to lock it in, he’s the best at it, and that’s why we have such good results.”
As with any manager, Bochy has juggled myriad personalities during his Giants tenure. The 2010 team, which Bochy labeled a “band of misfits,” featured Brian Wilson’s black beard and Aubrey Huff’s lucky “rally thong.” The past two title teams have been tamer, exemplified by the steadiness of Buster Posey and Bumgarner.
Posey said he believes Bochy’s “best quality is how he can take so many different personalities and pull them together and get everybody on the same wavelength.” That seemed a particularly daunting task last season when the Giants were mired in a several-month funk, during which they made a string of roster moves to infuse energy into a sinking clubhouse. Some of the prospects called up – including Joe Panik and Matt Duffy – played key roles late in the season.
“For as long as I’ve been under him, he’s just allowed people to go about themselves and let themselves be free in the clubhouse,” said Lincecum, who has played for only Bochy in his big-league career. “Obviously, we have to start policing ourselves at that point. But I think just the freedom of personalities, the way he lets that be and lets things fly, it lets younger guys come in here and be comfortable.”
That hasn’t gotten in the way of the ultimate goal. Cain said Bochy’s “biggest thing is he tries to win every game – and he finds ways to win those games, too. Sometimes he’ll do different things in certain situations, and you’re wondering why, but he has always got a purpose for everything, and I think that’s impressive.”
And so, behind that stoic countenance, the wheels keep turning. Bochy, who will turn 60 on April 16, said this spring he hasn’t given any thought to life after baseball, even after the retirement of his longtime third-base coach and friend Tim Flannery this offseason and a brief health scare that required two stents in February. “I don’t look at this as a job,” Bochy said. “I’m having too good a time.”
And as for the quality, the characteristic, Bochy hopes he imparts most to his players? A grumble, and then:
“If anything, as these years have gone by, I get hopefully a better understanding of how difficult this game is,” he said. “And I hope what comes across, through our ups, downs, the frustration at times and even our celebrating, is how much I do care about them as humans, as people.
“I know they’re not robots or pawns. I care about all of them. So that would be my hope.”