For fellow relief pitcher Javier Lopez, a seminal Jeremy Affeldt moment came in Game 4 of the 2012 World Series in Detroit. With the Giants trying to clinch against the Tigers, Affeldt entered in the eighth inning of a 3-3 game and walked the leadoff batter. Then he faced the heart of the Tigers order – Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Delmon Young – and struck each one out swinging.
“He’s punching them all out on different pitches,” Lopez said. “That’s when he was just so dynamic, being able to throw not only to lefties and righties, but just being able to dominate innings. I think that’s what was really impressive about him.”
The Giants would win that game in the 10th inning and capture the World Series, just as they had two years before, and as they would again two years later. The lineups and the rotations would change, but one constant during that run would be the presence – and the consistency – of Affeldt in the Giants bullpen.
“We’re not putting on these rings without the guy,” Lopez said.
It was perhaps fitting, then, that Affeldt chose the first day of October to announce that he intends to retire from baseball after this season, at the end of his 14th major-league season and seventh with the Giants. He made the formal announcement during a 25-minute news conference Thursday, thanking the Giants and city of San Francisco for his time there and saying a desire to spend more time with his family played a key role in his decision.
“I had a good friend that I played with a long time and he told me, this game’s meant for young men, and sometimes when you’re too old to play you need to leave,” said Affeldt, 36. “I feel right now that I need to leave. I’m walking around, they have to tape me together just to be able to get me out there. So it’s time to leave, it’s time to let someone else have a chance to play.”
Affeldt said his decision was “not something that is all of a sudden.” He was pondering retirement coming into the season and said over the course of a difficult year he began to lean toward it more and more. He has pitched the last month with braces on both his knees. He found himself wishing he could spend more time with his wife and three sons, ages 8, 5 and 3.
“To not be able to give 100 percent affected me,” he said. “When I was at home I was not present, I was at the field, and my sons and my bride felt that. And there were times I was at the field that I wanted to be home. And I think it would be unfair to my teammates and baseball in general to continue to go out there when I don’t feel I can give 100 percent.
“I’m very excited for my next chapter in life. But this one here, man, I don’t apologize for any of it. I can’t imagine a better run.”
As of Thursday morning, in seven seasons with the Giants, Affeldt had recorded a 3.07 ERA in 412 regular-season games. His versatility was an asset to manager Bruce Bochy, who used Affeldt in a variety of roles from multi-inning relief early in games to filling in as the Giants’ closer. Affeldt also became a key part of the Giants’ clubhouse, a veteran leader who could maintain order if necessary but mostly kept things light.
“I’m going to miss him -- you can’t help but miss a Jeremy Affeldt,” Bochy said. “The badgering that we did back and forth, but also what he did on the mound for us. We had three rings, and he played a critical role in every one of those championships. He’s a winner, he’s a champion. He’s going out like that. And I’m certainly thankful for all he did for me.”
For Bochy, a seminal Affeldt moment came in Game 6 of the 2010 N.L. Championship Series in Philadelphia. With starter Jonathan Sanchez pitching wild, Bochy brought in Affeldt in the third inning of a 2-2 game, with two runners on and no outs after Sanchez had hit Chase Utley. The Sanchez pitch ignited tempers; Affeldt diffused the situation. He pitched two scoreless innings, and the Giants won the game and the pennant.
“He helped turn that game around, which I thought was the biggest game of that whole postseason,” Bochy said. “And when things started going awry, he calmed it down and gave us a chance to win that game.”
Ironically, Bochy pointed out that another pivotal Affeldt moment occurred in the 2012 NLDS against the Reds, when he was struck on the hand by a foul ball in the dugout between innings in Game 5. It rendered Affeldt unable to return to the game and helped set up the memorable battle between Sergio Romo and Jay Bruce, which Romo won by getting the left-handed hitter to fly out as the potential go-ahead run in the ninth.
But even that was illustrative of Affeldt’s career. In his time, Affeldt earned a reputation for suffering freak injuries, particularly away from the field. In 2011, he accidentally cut his hand while trying to separate frozen hamburger patties. He once hurt his knee when his eldest son jumped on him, and earlier this year he spent time on the DL after hurting his other knee playing with kids on an off-day at a lake near his home in Spokane, Wash.
“My wife’s a little concerned about it (retirement),” Affeldt said. “With the amount of free time I have now to be around outdoor things and knives and barbecues, she’s really, really concerned. She bought me some chain-mail gloves the other day that she said are stab-proof as one of my retirement gifts, so that was fun.”
Bochy joked that Affeldt is “going to have to hire a full-time trainer” to stay healthy now that he won’t be pitching anymore. The left-hander took plenty of grief from teammates for those incidents over the years, but to his credit, Bochy said, Affeldt always took it in stride.
“He takes it well, gives it back very well, he’s the go-to guy when you want to have a laugh,” Bochy said. “We’re going to miss that.
“I’m really going to miss those beautiful scuds he throws,” Bochy added, referencing Affeldt’s habit for bouncing pitches in the dirt. “That’s entertaining. Jeremy’s one of those entertaining players that keeps all the guys loose and fun. Those guys are hard to replace.”
Affeldt agreed that the relationships – not necessarily the game – will be the part of his playing career that he misses most. He said he has several teammates on the Giants, including Matt Cain and Buster Posey, whom he considers “closer than a brother.” And he became most emotional Thursday while talking about them.
“Once you leave the clubhouse, you’re out, and I get that,” Affeldt said. “Even when I come back in here, the guys are getting ready for a game, they’re not going to be able to talk to me as a player because I’m not one. And I understand that. I think I’ll miss that.”
As for what he won’t miss, Affeldt laid out the top five things in an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated that ran on the publication’s website Thursday. Leading the list: The amount of “incessant showboating” he sees in today’s game.
“I’m not going to miss the smoke signals that you’ve got to throw up from first base after you walk, to let everybody know that you walked,” Affeldt said. “It might just be the new wave of baseball. It’s just something I’m not going to miss.”
For Affeldt, the seminal Affeldt moment came last October 29 in Kansas City, and may be the one Giants fans remember most when they think back on the left-hander’s career. In the city where he broke into the majors as a 23-year-old with the Royals, Affeldt replaced a shaky Tim Hudson in the second inning of a winner-take-all Game 7 and, once again, stabilized things. His 2 1/3 scoreless innings provided the bridge to Madison Bumgarner, who pitched final five innings to secure the Giants’ third ring in five years.
Bumgarner got the save. Affeldt got the win.
For Affeldt, it was a moment of validation. He struggled during five seasons in Kansas City and recalled Thursday that when the Royals traded him in 2006, “I remember walking out of that city feeling like a complete loser, like I don’t deserve to be in the major leagues, I don’t know what it’s like to win.”
“To walk out of there a Game 7 winner (last October), to walk out of there a champion, when I left there not feeling like one originally, was a full circle to my career.”
It was also indicative of how steady Affeldt was for the Giants in the postseason. Starting with Game 3 of the 2010 World Series and carrying through that Oct. 29 night, Affeldt pitched in 22 playoff games without allowing a run, totaling 23 1/3 innings in that span. He gave up just 11 hits, and his scoreless postseason games streak is second all-time to only Yankees great Mariano Rivera.
“We played in a lot of tight games,” said Lopez, also a member of the “Core Four” group of relievers present for all three World Series runs. “And you never saw him sweat.”
Affeldt said he tried not to pay attention to statistics as a player.
“But I’ll be honest with you,” he said, “I know what the (postseason) starts are. And to be part of the names that I’ve been brought into, on the career postseason statistics, honestly very overwhelming for me. I take a lot of pride in that.”
Finally, Affeldt said that Game 7 performance “started the door opening” to his decision to retire. Had he not been under contract for 2015, he said Thursday, he might’ve walked away after last season. As it was, he considered retiring in the middle of this season, and credited Bochy and Posey with talking him out of it.
Affeldt recalled Thursday a talk he had with Posey while in San Diego during the Giants’ final series before the All-Star Break. Posey asked Affeldt if he was frustrated and the pitcher replied: “Yeah, I’m done man, I don’t want to play this game anymore.” Posey was silent for three minutes.
“And then out of nowhere he just said, ‘I don’t think you should do that,’” Affeldt said. “‘You need to play it out, man.’ … And I’m glad I did, because I think it would’ve been a travesty and something I would have regretted for the rest of my life.”
Now, though, Affeldt feels ready. Recently the Giants were in San Diego again, during an off-day, and this time it was Affeldt’s 8-year-old son who contacted him on FaceTime.
“He said, ‘Can you go to the airport?’” Affeldt said. “I go ‘Why?’ And he says, ‘You need to come home now.’ … That’s hard for me to hear.”
Affeldt explained he couldn’t come home yet – he had a season to finish. Of course, kids can be fickle. Wednesday night, Affeldt said, he was at home tucking in his son, who told him: “Dad, I don’t want you to retire.”
“I’m like, son I don’t really understand the conflicting messages that you’re sending me,” Affeldt said.
But now there is no more conflict. Affeldt will play the rest of this season – Bochy said he intends to use Affeldt like a regular reliever – and then walk away from the game he has played since boyhood. He said he’s excited to have more time to dedicate to his many off-the-field causes, and to spend with his family.
Asked if he’ll find it hard now to watch postseason games, Affeldt joked that he probably won’t watch many, given they take place during hunting season. But he’ll retire with his postseason scoreless streak intact -- and with the memories of three seasons that ended in October glory.
“That is something I think a lot of athletes often wonder if they never get to the postseason or the World Series is, could they do it on the biggest stage,” Affeldt said.
“And I have the ability now – and I hope I don’t have to talk about that a whole lot – but I do have the ability to say, yes, I was able to do it.”