Bochy overshadowed but not underappreciated in NLDS tilt

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When the National League Division Series begins in San Francisco, the saga of Bobby Cox -- managing in his final days -- will overshadow the other manager in the ballpark.

Which means it will be situation normal for Bruce Bochy.

Bochy has no problems operating in the shadows. He's been there for most of the four seasons he's been managing in San Francisco. Overshadowed by his predecessors, the popular Dusty Baker and the legendary Felipe Alou. By his successor in San Diego, Bud Black. Black will get plenty of NL Manager of the Year votes. Bochy, the division winner, may get only a handful.

Bochy seems to prefer being out of the spotlight. He doesn't give great soundbites. He goes out of his way to deflect attention. He is the same -- professional, friendly, just this side of boring -- day in and day out.

But there's a growing appreciation for the job he's done with the Giants. Handed the thankless task of overseeing the transition from the Barry Bonds-dominated team to an unknown future, Bochy has been a quiet, steady hand at the helm.

"I felt like we were getting close," Bochy said on Sunday when the team clinched. "I felt like we had a good foundation. We wanted to keep improving."

While fans were running out of patience, Bochy stayed steady. This season, he was given one team in spring training and over the season had his roster remade with castoffs and call-ups.

He managed his team into contention, showing more flexibility than predicted, benching high-priced veterans for more productive role players and youngsters. He didn't panic when his starting pitchers had a miserable month of August. His reputation as a stellar bullpen handler has come shining through: the Giants' bullpen has the lowest ERA (2.99) of any team in the playoffs.

And down the stretch, Bochy's touch has been just right. He called a hitters meeting in Chicago, to try to jumpstart the offense for the final days of their last roadtrip. It worked. He tinkered with the rotation on the final homestand.

And he played psychologist. Though the Giants may have had a playoff game in San Diego on Monday, he didn't want them coming to the ballpark on Sunday with luggage.

"I didn't want them packing, thinking that way," Bochy said.

Instead, Bochy's team went out and beat his old team on the last day of the season. Bochy spent the final five years of his playing career with the Padres and all of his managing career, prior to coming to San Francisco. During his 12 years as Padres manager, he took San Diego to the World Series in 1998 and made the playoffs three other seasons, including back-to-back trips in 2005 and 2006. But after that final season, with one year remaining on his contract, Padres general manager Sandy Alderson allowed Bochy to seek a contract elsewhere. He did.

So it must have felt great to knock out his old team, right? Mr. No-Drama wasn't going there.

"That's water under the bridge," Bochy. "It feels good because of how tough they were on us all year."

Aubrey Huff calls Bochy the best players' manager he's ever played for.

"He gets it," Huff said. "He gets the game. He gets the ups and downs. You never see him panic."

Bochy doesn't grandstand. He doesn't call the players out in public. He usually lets players know about lineup changes in private.

Bochy made a little ruckus this week when he told a local morning radio show that rookie starter Madison Bumgarner would likely pitch Game 4, unless the Giants were down and then it would be Tim Lincecum on short rest. No mention of Barry Zito, setting off a flurry of speculation over whether Zito would even make the playoff roster. By afternoon, Bochy had reverted to form, saying that Zito was still in the mix. The roster is due at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Bochy has done a good job of soothing egos, finding playing time, juggling lineups.

On Sunday afternoon, he made one more nice move: in the midst of the team celebration he asked veteran Pat Burrell to take the players out to thank the fans. They did, making a lap, giving high-fives, with Bochy bringing up the rear.

"They brought so much energy," Bochy said. "I just wanted the fans to know we appreciate them."

Four years into the job, the feeling is finally mutual.