Bruce Bochy and the Fierce Urgency of the Post-Season

Game two of the World Series felt like two games. Until there were two outs in the bottom of the eighth, it felt like a typical Giants game-great pitching, low scoring with the winner determined by a few key hits and a few breaks. Then the wheels came off the Texas bullpen. A 2-0 deficit, which given the Rangers offense, was not insurmountable quickly became a 9-0 Giant lead which, given the Giants bullpen, was insurmountable.

For most of the game, it was not the blowout that the final score suggests, but game two of the World Series highlighted the difference in managing styles between Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Ranger manager Ron Washington. Ron Washington, regardless of the outcome of the rest of the World Series is on his way to becoming the third straight manager to be out-managed by Bruce Bochy.

The biggest contrast between Bochy and Washington, as well as between Bochy and many other managers in the post-season, Joe Girardi comes to mind, is that Bochy seems to understand the urgency of these games. The Rangers are down two games to none in a World Series in which their best relief pitcher, Neftali Feliz, has not thrown one pitch. There was no real place to use him in game one, but letting Feliz cool his heels in the bullpen while the Rangers let the game get out of hand in the eighth inning does not make sense in a World Series game, especially one where the Rangers were already down 1-0 in the series. Bochy, by contrast, brought his closer, Brian Wilson, in to get the last two outs of game one despite a big Giant lead. The Giants manager was taking no chances while the Ranger skipper was holding his best back for an opportunity that was less likely to come with every pitch thrown by the non-Feliz bullpen contingent.

Bochy brought a similar intensity to game six of the NLCS which may have been the best managed big game I have ever seen by a Giants manager, but I can only really remember as far back as Joe Altobelli. Bochy made three important decisions during that game and one before that series which demonstrated his win at all costs in the playoffs approach.

The first major decision was to leave Barry Zito off the roster. Bochy saw no need for a pitcher who could absorb innings but not shut down the opponents. Many managers would have kept Zito on the roster for the exact situation that arose in game six. The starter, Jonathan Sanchez, left the game early creating a need for a long reliever, but Bochy didn’t want a long reliever. He wanted his best arms to keep him in the game.

Bochy’s decision to yank Sanchez early, bring in Lincecum to get Jayson Werth in the eighth inning for one of the biggest outs of the game and then to bring Wilson in for a five out save not only all worked out, but all revealed that Bochy understood the urgency of every out. Many managers would have left a clearly struggling Lincecum in after giving up two hits in the bottom of the eighth, citing some nonsense about Lincecum being their ace, others would have let Sanchez try to pitch out of the third wanting to keep their bullpen a little rested for a potential game seven, or not use Wilson for five outs. Bochy does not manage that way. His use of double shifts and defensive replacement demonstrates that Bochy understands that this Giants team wins low scoring one run games a lot so a 1-0 or 2-1 lead is worth protecting even if it means taking a big bat out of the lineup. This would be less wise on a team that did not pitch as well or had more offensive pop, but on the Giants it makes sense.

Bochy may not be the best Giants manager ever, but managers like player have career peaks and valleys; and Bochy is hitting his stride at the exactly right time. In general, Bochy seems less given to platitudes about chemistry, sticking with what has worked and the like than many managers. When Lincecum didn’t have it in the eighth inning of game six, Bochy took him out. Pablo Sandoval is a fan favorite who was a starter most of the season, but he has lost his starting job during the World Series. A clearly inferior, although well paid and experienced veteran like Aaron Rowand also is on the bench. Bochy, at least this post-season, seems driven by a strategy of getting the best players he can on the field for every inning of every game. It isn’t chemistry, but it just might work.