For a moment, but just one, Bruce Bochy was able to love his job again. He couldn’t wait to summon Joe Panik and deliver the news: Bochy personally had named the Giants’ second baseman to the National League All-Star team, a perk of managing a World Series team the previous autumn, even if he pisses off fans elsewhere who resent his bias.
Bochy needed to smile. He needed a legal greenie. So he was thrilled to be the messenger. “It’s been a grind for the guys, going through this losing streak, and I wanted to do something uplifting. Joe was excited like a little kid,” said Bochy, managing that smile.
He brightened again while reporting he also had chosen Madison Bumgarner for the NL pitching staff, meaning he had shunned Clayton Kershaw, setting off sirens in Los Angeles and throughout baseball. Bumgarner has a better record (8-5) than the hard-luck Kershaw (5-6), but that’s about his only edge. Kershaw has him beat in earned-run average (3.08 to 3.34), strikeouts (147 to 114) hits allowed (91 to 101) and WHIP (1.035 to 1.076). Bochy didn’t care. Shove that and your obscene payroll, Dodgers. “That’s the great thing about managing an All-Star Game. You can cover some of your players,” he said, still happy.
The smile disappeared quickly, of course, when Bochy was reminded that his day-gig club already has suffered four losing streaks of at least five games and is in danger of evaporating from playoff contention. That is very difficult to do in the modern structure of double wild-cards, which guarantees that all but the abysmal stragglers are breathing until August. Yet Bochy has been dealt one of his most difficult hands in his otherwise triumphant tenure here.
In general, the reigning champs can’t hit, pitch, run, field or think. Monday night at AT&T, they at least pitched for a while — Chris Heston went scoreless for 7¹⁄³ innings against the Mets, the team he no-hit last month in New York — but the Giants managed only three singles and made more mental errors in a sickly 3-0 loss, their seventh straight. They can’t bunt, either, with rookie Ryan Lollis ruining a potential eighth-inning rally with a pop-up. And their closer, Santiago Casilla, has turned to mush.
“Definitely have to tighten up this bullpen,” Bochy grumbled afterward, on a night when he rested his All-Star infield tandem of Panik and Brandon Crawford.
You know the issues. The bullpen, bedrock of three title runs, is in shambles. The rotation is mostly old and beat up beyond Bumgarner and Heston, who never has been in a pennant race. Bochy’s celebrated bosses left the offense a bat or two short, whiffing on Casey McGehee (after wisely letting Pablo “Instagram” Sandoval go) and leaving holes when Hunter Pence and Nori Aoki were injured. Lately, baserunners have blundered and fielders have flubbed. In fact, the only reason you don’t entirely dismiss the Giants is one man.
When he is called the game’s best manager — most recently by ESPN, in a poll of 50 insiders — it isn’t some Pavlovian response that has carried through time. He’s still the best at dealing with players young enough to be his grandsons, always upbeat and never cutting publicly, blessed with the perfect eight-month equilibrium. He still coaxes optimum effort, still emphasizes the old school while dropping “cool” into conversations, still shrewdly strategizes, still expertly handles a pitching staff. He didn’t lose those gifts.
No, Bochy just lost a credible team.
“That’s on my mind, trust me,” he said of the urgent need to win a game. “Let’s just get back to who we are, and that’s playing good, consistent baseball. … Let’s try to get the mojo back, get the offense going a little bit, try to cut down on the mental mistakes. That’s not us.”
But at 42-42, who are they? The Giants are relying on Matt Cain (arrow down) and Jake Peavy (arrow up) to return from health issues and provide a pattern of rotation reliability. The Giants are treating Pence’s imminent return like he’s God, when, in fact, his bat is productive and energy infectious only to a point. They clearly need a major move before the trade deadline, yet unless Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans are bluffing, they aren’t thinking big.
Which might explain some of the maneuvers their state-of-the-art manager has been making. Survival? You can say that when Bochy, in what possibly is a first, suggested his players extend a road trip one extra night … to their own ballpark. Tired of being tired on the East Coast, not willing to star on ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” and then red-eye it home 5½ hours, the Giants woke Monday morning in Washington, boarded their charter and arrived at SFO at 1 p.m. They bussed it to the ballpark, where some hung around the luxury clubhouse, some went to lunch and some snuck home for an hour or two.
This is unheard of. No one cries for anyone in an industry where the average salary is $4 million, the hotel is a Ritz-Carlton and the players still get $100.50 in daily meal money. But getting up at 8 a.m., traveling three time zones and not getting home until 11 p.m. sounds like one of my road trips. “It’s a tough grind. They’re professionals. It’s something they have to deal with, the schedule,” said Bochy, no travel agent.
That followed a night when he tried an age-old ploy: Bochy vented on home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, yapping about balls and strikes until Cuzzi finally had enough and ejected Bochy and Ryan Vogelsong. Didn’t work, either.
That followed a trick play that also didn’t work. Bochy, trying to unnerve the machine that is Bryce Harper, had Crawford try to distract him by chatting up his friend at second base. When Harper took a big lead, Gregor Blanco rushed in from center field and tried to sync with pitcher Yusmeiro Petit for a pickoff. Motioned by half of Nationals Park, Harper returned to the base with ease.
“I haven’t seen [that] since Pony League,” said one Nationals player, per the Washington Post.
You can’t say a Hall of Fame skipper isn’t trying everything in his bag. “They’re human,” Bochy said of this team, in the dreaded odd-number year.
And too flawed, apparently, for even his special touch.
Brandon CrawfordBruce BochyCasey McGeheeChris HestonClayton KershawHunter PenceJake PeavyJoe PanikMadison BumgarnerMatt CainNori AokiPablo SandovalRyan LollisRyan VogelsongSan Francisco GiantsSantiago Casilla