The Bay Area has been blessed with some excellent managers, starting with Alvin Dark and the 1962 Giants, the first San Francisco team to make the World Series. To understand why Bruce Bochy now has three Series rings, it’s best to contrast his style to Tony La Russa, who had only one with the A’s though he had the best team in baseball for three years.
La Russa is the smartest and most innovative manager I’ve known. He was the one who invented the position of closer, extending Dennis Eckersley’s career and getting him into the Hall of Fame. He had pitchers for the seventh and eighth innings, as everybody has now.
But his hard-driving managerial style of that era absolutely wore out his team. He was more like a football coach — think Jim Harbaugh — than a baseball manager. That style works well in football where every game is important but not for a baseball schedule with 162 games. The A’s were mentally exhausted by the time they got to the Series. La Russa learned from that and backed off with the St. Louis Cardinals later, winning two more World Series.
Bochy’s style is the opposite, so low key that he was often criticized in his early years with the Giants when he didn’t have the players to win. In their World Series years, though, that style has allowed players to be relaxed and at their best in the pressure-filled postseason.
Along with that, Bochy has had a sure touch with his pitchers in the postseason. This one was the most challenging because he lacked the solid starters he had in the Giants first two Series wins. With Matt Cain out and Tim Lincecum still trying to figure out where he’s going, Bochy had to work with Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy. Hudson will no doubt retire, Vogelsong should and Peavy should never start a pressure game.
But he had Madison Bumgarner. When Hudson got into trouble in the second inning of the seventh game, Bochy got Jeremy Affeldt into the game immediately. Affeldt is usually saved for the seventh inning but he shut down the Royals until Bumgarner could come in.
Because he was getting hitters out with a minimum of pitches early, Bumgarner just kept rolling. When it came to the ninth inning, there was no doubt he was going back out there. Would you have preferred Santiago Casilla?
Bochy’s attitude made a tremendous difference with the players, too. Because he was relaxed, even if he were pretending, his players were, too. It was amazing to see them so confident, even though they had taken a lopsided beating in the previous game, and they were playing the seventh game of the World Series on the road. They knew they’d find a way to win that game.
I’m reluctant to join the crowd calling the Giants a dynasty team when they couldn’t win their own division this season. The fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers stumbled, with their ace, Clayton Kershaw, again falling apart in the postseason, gave them their opening.
But one thing is certain: Given a good team, Bruce Bochy can take it to the heights in the postseason.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.