Bochy, Posey calmly lead Giants' rally past Reds and into NLCS
CINCINNATI -- They are leaders of Giants, these two men, the catcher and the manager. One has the titular authority, and one has the de facto respect that comes with playing the central defensive position and filling the central lineup slot. But both have also earned that trust with the way they conduct themselves and the way they perform.
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy and catcher Buster Posey share more than leadership. They share a position (Bochy is a former catcher), a school (both went to Florida State) and, most pertinently, a demeanor. "Both are no-panic guys," left-handed reliever Javier Lopez said.
When the Giants fell behind two games to none to the Reds -- with a trip to Cincinnati forthcoming -- they would need to win three straight road games to win the Division Series, which no club had ever done.
Yet three days and three wins later, they were celebrating at Great American Ballpark before a sold-out crowd of disappointed Reds fans, with Bochy and Posey as two of the central characters.
Posey ripped a fifth-inning grand slam to cap a six-run outburst that, when combined with Bochy's deft maneuvering of the lineup and bullpen and
a bend-but-don't-break pitching staff quelling four straight Reds' rallies with the tying run on base, the Giants defeated the Reds 6-4 in Game 5 to advance to the NLCS.
"He's a leader on this club," Bochy said of Posey. "He leads by example. He's a calming influence."
This isn't to say that Bochy and Posey are the only strong presences on this Giants roster with a lot of veteran players and coaches. But it became apparent in this NLDS, with their backs against the wall, that if you wanted an accurate pulse of the team -- almost always even keel -- they were often the tone-setting leaders.
"They're both the same in a lot of ways," starter Matt Cain, the day's winning pitcher, said, "but I think Buster is a little calmer than Bochy is."
Cain's reasoning was that Posey, as an active participant in the game, at least had the confidence of knowing he could more directly influence the action, whereas Bochy's work was in putting players in a position to succeed.
And no player more directly influenced the action than Posey, who threw out a stolen-base attempt to mitigate a burgeoning rally in the sixth in addition to his grand slam in the fifth.
Posey only had four hits in the series but two were home runs off Reds righthander Mat Latos at his most vulnerable moments. One quirk about Latos this year, despite his stellar 14-4 record and 3.48 ERA this year, is that he seems to struggle in the middle innings. He shut opponents down to a .194 average over his first 45 pitches each game, but in the next set of 45 pitches opponents batted .288.
Latos threw four innings of relief in Game 1, and the one blemish was a solo shot by Posey, which came on Latos' 46th pitch. In Game 5, Latos had allowed two runs and loaded the bases for Posey, who crushed a 94-mile-per-hour pitch 434 feet for a no-doubt grand slam on Latos' 79th and final pitch of the day.
"I've never seen any young man come in with the responsibility that he has," lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt said of Posey, "controlling seven or eight pitchers a night who have all different stuff and then go to the plate and do what he does and be calm the entire time.
"I've seen hitters come up and do well [right away], but this guy has to catch, man."
Posey, still only 25, won a batting title with his .336 average -- and, given his 24 homers, 103 RBIs and work with the pitching staff -- is a frontrunner for the NL MVP. And he did all this in his comeback year from a devastating injury, fracturing his leg in a home plate collision late last May.
The organization wasn't sure how many games Posey would be able to play, and the 148 he logged surely exceeded their expectations. Bochy gave Posey occasional games playing first base and other games completely off.
"He and Buster have communicated well the whole year," Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans said. "From day one they were on the same page."
"It was so strategic even yesterday just to give [backup catcher Hector Sanchez] the game yesterday," Evans added, with Posey playing first base, "and then to be able to come back with Posey today with fresh legs and the chance for such a big bat."
Whether keeping Posey fresh or playing bullpen matchups -- Bochy made 13 pitching changes in the Giants' three wins, with the relievers allowing only two runs in 14 2/3 innings -- the manager set that stage by developing expectations a month in advance of the postseason, said third-base coach Tim Flannery.
"He forges everybody into the roles they have to be," Flannery said.
Bochy and Flannery were teammates on the 1984 Padres, who were one of only seven teams to approximate what the Giants just did, though their comeback from a 2-0 deficit all played out at home. That surely helped the manager keep the team focused.
"Bochy knows calm leadership helps steer a ship into safety," Affeldt said.
Almost too calm, as it turns out. Before Game 3, Bochy stood up before his players in the clubhouse and harkened back to the Old Testament. He told the Book of Judges' great underdog story of Gideon, who commanded a small group of men to overtake the more numerous Midianites. "There was no way they were going to win," Flannery explained, recounting Bochy's speech. "They had to come together."
It was a powerful message, but it was immediately upstaged by the energizing histrionics of Hunter Pence, who yelled and paced and fired up the team with the desire to want to see everyone again the next day, which would only happen with a victory. Next time, Affeldt counseled Bochy, "Yell the story out. Hunter just shot your story down. It's a good story, but if you've got to deliver it a little bit better."
The Reds, on the other hand, set some unfortunate history, by failing to stop the Giants' comeback. Cincinnati won 97 games and the NL Central and may only lose third baseman Scott Rolen, either to free agency or retirement. But it is now 0-4 in playoff games at Great American Ballpark, which includes a loss in getting swept in 2010, and manager Dusty Baker is now 1-8 in potential postseason clinchers and has lost six in a row, including the three games of this series and three games of the Cubs' 2003 NLCS.
"You get tired of the disappointments, but then you get over it, " he said. "It hurts, big time." Baker's contract has now expired and, given his recent health issues that required a hospital stay, he's not sure of his future, saying, "I don't know, man, right now I'm kinda numb in this situation."
The Giants' only uncertainty is whom they're going to play next. The Nationals' Game 4 win has kept them in limbo for another day -- one that they'll spend in Cincinnati, not knowing whether they'll open the NLCS in Washington against the Nationals or in San Francisco against the Cardinals.
Wherever they go, they'll have steady men at the helm.