As Giants strive for an improbable title, Bochy is making himself heard
ARLINGTON, Texas -- With a passing glance, Bruce Bochy can seem almost cartoonish.
The official bio of the Giants manager lists him as 6'4", 210 pounds, but everything about him seems larger -- and his true weight likely is larger -- because of his old-fashioned way of wearing a snug uniform.
Because of the way he lumbers more than walks, ambling with old catcher's knees.
Because of his giant head that requires a size 8 1/8 hat -- the average man wears a 7 1/4 -- as he manages a team whose former star's oversized noggin was a punch line.
And because of that voice, a booming bass with a hint of a rasp that emits words with a guttural roar.
All of this was apparent earlier this month: While standing in the Turner Field dugout during an NLDS off-day workout, Bochy greeted a reporter he knew with a friendly exclamation of "Big John!" Then he continued moseying onward, repeating to himself in an almost sing-song voice -- "Big John, big bad John..." -- as descended the rear dugout steps into the clubhouse tunnel.
But all of those personal traits are distractions from the emerging reality of this postseason: "Boch," as his coaches call him, is one of baseball's best in-game strategists and no small reason why the Giants lead the Rangers two games to none in this World Series.
"I trust him and his staff, and he has the power of the pen at the end of the day," San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean says. "He'll have to answer the tough questions before and after the games. This whole club is built on an atmosphere of openness. We all weigh in, and then there's no second-guessing."
Bochy is a meticulous planner, envisioning all manner of scenarios before the game and seeking the consul of his coaches and of Sabean on how to react to them. And then he is swift and decisive.
Take Game 6 of the NLCS. Staring pitcher Jonathan Sanchez was clearly not sharp early on, and Bochy removed him in the third inning even though Sanchez had only given up two runs at the time. Bochy knew that he couldn't afford to let his young starter work through a trouble spot when letting the game get out of hand would mean facing a surging, battle-tested Phillies team on the road in Game 7.
"If you have a chance to beat them," third base coach Tim Flannery says, "you better do it right now and do it today."
Later in the game, with his bullpen exhausted from getting to the eighth inning, Bochy called upon his third starting pitcher of the game in Tim Lincecum, after opening with Sanchez and using Madison Bumgarner to pitch the sixth and seventh. Not only did Bochy hand the ball to Lincecum, but he also quickly came out to the mound to take the ball back from him after his ace gave up two hits in three batters. Closer Brian Wilson then entered and got the final five outs.
"We had scripted that Lincecum would pitch with a lead in the eighth, with Wilson up, in case we needed more than a three-out save," Sabean says. "All of that was rehearsed in conversation. That tells you about [Bochy's] level of preparation."
It's hard to miss the contrast between Bochy and his World Series counterpart, Texas skipper Ron Washington, who in Game 2 had no one warming up behind Derek Holland until the young pitcher had walked two straight hitters. Washington had no backup plan, other than to say after the game, "I thought he would correct himself."
Among Bochy's other notable moves in October:
• He reduced the roles of his two highest-paid players, leaving starter Barry Zito off the postseason roster and limiting outfielder Aaron Rowand to a reserve role.
• He mixed and matched the left side of his infield, using five combinations of starting shortstops and third basemen in six NLCS games.
• He made three double-switches in NLCS Game 4.
• He regularly subs out left fielder Pat Burrell, a subpar fielder, for Nate Schierholtz, a superb fielder. And Bochy doesn't stop there, shifting Schierholtz to the more difficult right field and moving starting right fielder Cody Ross to left.
There is, Bochy admits, some luck to the matter. In Thursday's World Series Game 2, a ball was hit deep in the right-center-field gap in the first inning that Schierholtz replaced Burrell, giving him the chance to make a running catch that no other Giant would have made. Earlier in the inning Ross, transplanted to left field, gloved a fly ball down the foul line that Burrell might not have caught.
The unassuming Bochy understands that his managerial calculus does not deserve all the credit.
"Things sometimes work out, but no, I do laugh a little bit to be honest," he says. "It's always up to the players to go out there and execute, especially when you put them in a position. And they're doing that."
Still, Bochy is so meticulous that even when he makes a pitching change, he'll recite the situation -- how many outs, how many men on base -- to his incoming reliever. But it's up to the reliever to understand his manager's deep voice.
"Sometimes it is hard to hear him," reliever Javier Lopez says with a laugh. "You've got to be really paying attention."
Bochy's players cite his communication skills -- voice clarity notwithstanding -- as his greatest asset.
"He makes sure you're aware of what's going on so that you're prepared," infielder Mike Fontenot says. "He's been making all the right moves. He likes to play the hot hand and the guys that are doing the job -- that's how it should be."
Adds Sabean, "He's always communicating with the players and tries to get everybody involved. This team was a perfect example -- if you see us for five days, you're going to see every starter, every reliever, and every position player is going to have a chance to contribute. We are a roster built on depth, with everybody having a role, and he's got a great knack for that."
Even with this year's 92-win, NL West-championship season, Bochy's overall record in four years with the Giants is 323-325. His overall record, taking his 12 years as Padres manager into account, is also below .500, at 1,274-1,300.
The past few years have been a retooling phase for the Giants, as their core pitchers developed -- all four postseason starters and the closer are products of the franchise's minor league system -- and their lineup added key veterans.
Giants special assistant Shawon Dunston played for a number of successful managers, from Dusty Baker to Tony La Russa to Don Zimmer. Dunston says that La Russa is the only one who prepares as much as Bochy does, though La Russa is a far stricter disciplinarian.
"Each takes a different route, but they meet at the same place," Dunston says, comparing Bochy and La Russa. "They're both right. If I'm young, I'd like Tony's way. If I'm an older player, I'd like Bruce's way. When you're young, you need discipline."
That's a key consideration for this year's Giants. Bochy has done well to find roles for all the unwanted veterans from other teams -- he calls them "misfits and castoffs," referring to Aubrey Huff, Burrell, Ross and Co. -- but there's no doubt that he has more talent on this year's roster, too, something he seems cognizant of.
"What makes a good manager? Good players," Bochy says. "There's no getting around that. That's the adage, and I believe it, too. But hopefully you're doing something to help them, being prepared or being in the right frame of mind to got out there and have some success."
And Bochy is comfortable making unpopular moves all year long, confident that they are best for the long run.
"What Boch does that's great is that he makes moves in April, May and June that get him booed out of the ballpark -- in the fans' minds, he took Lincecum out too early or he left Sanchez out too long or he used [reliever Jeremy] Affeldt the wrong way -- but what he's doing is instilling confidence in these guys," Flannery says, "He has a way of seeing the whole picture when most of us, myself and the fans included, are living in the moment."
As the Giants approach what they hope will be their crowning moment -- their first championship in San Francisco -- they know they have the right man at the helm.