DENVER—The Giants arrived at Coors Field in early August fresh off an 11-game homestand in which they lost eight of nine games, including three of four to the Mets. Their lead in the National League West was down to a half-game over the Dodgers.
The Bay Area faithful were wavering. Manager Bruce Bochy called a team meeting. “It’s the only one we’ve had this year,” reliever Jeremy Affeldt said at the end of the regular season.
But it was time.
“We had a tough homestand and some guys were pressing,” Bochy said. “Seemed like it was time to talk to the guys.”
The focus was the movie “Days of Thunder,” and how a race car driver (played by Tom Cruise) who had been injured in a wreck had a moment of uncertainty when he returned to the track and saw a wreck in front of him.
“He had lost his confidence and swagger,” Bochy said. “Robert Duvall was his crew chief and told him, ‘Just press on the gas and get by it. Trust me.’ “
The Giants, obviously, trust Bochy.
Two years removed from their only World Series championship since moving west in 1958, the Giants are headed to the postseason for the sixth time in 16 years. They stepped on the gas and raced right by the Dodgers.
Dealing With Adversity
Not too shabby considering that the Dodgers grabbed headlines and momentum in August, getting righthander Joe Blanton from the Phillies, followed by the blockbuster deal with the Red Sox that brought in first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, injured outfielder Carl Crawford, righthander Josh Beckett and infielder Nick Punto.
The Giants? They signed free agent Xavier Nady and claimed lefty Jose Mijares off waivers from the Royals, giving Bochy a third lefty that he has used brilliantly in the bullpen.
Then, on Aug. 15, the Giants learned that cleanup hitter Melky Cabrera would be suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Predictions of the team’s demise were rampant.
“(General manager Brian Sabean) had a meeting, but it wasn’t a big deal,” Affeldt said. “He told us what the deal was, and then Bochy said, ‘Let’ s move on.’ He didn’t get overly excited. He made it clear. This was just something we had to deal with.”
And the Giants have dealt with it well. They lost 6-4 to the Nationals the day Cabrera was suspended, then won 16 of the next 24 games.
It all starts with Bochy, the understated manager, who is much more comfortable talking about the Cy Young candidacy of Matt Cain or the MVP potential of Buster Posey than the idea that his team’s success is tied more closely to its manager than maybe any team in baseball.
“I’m not doing this for attention or accolades,” he said. “I’m in this to win and get to the postseason and try to win another World Series. This game isn’t about the manager. It’s about the players, and how they play the game.”
It’s just that more often than not, Bochy’s players play the game better, even if he isn’t as high-profile as other top managers. Bochy has the longest active streak of consecutive years managed, at 18, and has the third-most wins of any current manager, trailing only Jim Leyland and Dusty Baker.
He helped create respect for the Padres for 12 years before getting pushed out the door in 2006. He joined the Giants for the 2007 season, and in 2010 he guided them to the World Series title.
It’s not always easy, but for Bochy, managing is always fun.
This year alone, in addition to Cabrera, he has had to mix-and-match his way through late innings after closer Brian Wilson went down early with an elbow injury. He dealt with the five-week loss of Pablo Sandoval to the disabled list in May and June. He has watched Tim Lincecum get through his first-half nightmare. And he kept his team in front of the Dodgers in spite of their continual efforts to fine tune.
No big deal. Bochy wouldn’t let it be.
“You have to deal with certain things in life,” he said. “It is not important what happened. You can’t change that. It is important how you deal with it. You have to focus on the future and not let it slip away. We’ve got the talent to win. So we have to be sure we don’t waste it.”