With the San Francisco Giants’ 9-3 victory over the New York Mets on Tuesday, Bruce Bochy secured yet another milestone in his illustrious managerial career: 1,000 regular season wins while donning the orange-and-black.
Just how many wins is that, exactly?
*pulls out calculator*
Multiply by π, carry the two, don’t forget the decimal, calculate P versus NP…
It’s a lot of wins!
It also means a lot of good memories courtesy of our big-domed Sultan of Grumble. But like my mom always says, not all Giants’ wins under Bruce Bochy are created equal. In general, a majority of baseball wins are pretty ho-hum affairs where nothing spectacular happens, while a small minority are so aggravating to watch, they don’t feel like wins at all.
But among the riff-raff of forgettable box scores, a few games stand out for the best reasons possible.
Before I get to the list, a disclaimer: I tried to focus on games that exemplify some aspect of Bochy’s managing style rather than player performances. So, while Matt Cain’s perfect game might be the greatest (regular season) game of all time, it’s not like Bochy had much to do with it—unless you think subbing in Joaquin Arias for Pablo Sandoval was a move for the record books.
Here is the definitive list of Bruce Bochy’s best three regular season wins as the Giants manager. And if you disagree with any of my choices, feel free to send your complaints to my personal assistant at email@example.com.
Bochy has earned his fair share of criticism for not getting with the times when it comes to advanced metrics, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of bucking trends. It’s just that when he does so, it’s usually in favor of an old-school approach.
Few games illustrate that better than this contest against the Oakland A’s. It really was a vintage 2011 performance: The Giants went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position; Miguel Tejada and Mike Fontenot started at third base and shortstop, respectively; and Tim Lincecum dominated the A’s lineup on his way to a complete-game shutout.
But if Lincecum were pitching today, he probably wouldn’t have had a shot at a shutout
because he’d give up six home runs by the third inning because of his pitch count. He finished the game with 133 pitches, which at the time was a season-high for all pitchers across MLB.
If there’s one hallmark of Bochy’s managing philosophy, it’s his tendency to give his starting pitchers an extended leash. Sometimes, it’s an extra-long retractable leash, as he lets his starters blow past recommended pitch counts.
Still, I remember watching this game at the time and thinking, Why is Bochy letting Lincecum pitch the ninth? The Giants had added a couple of insurance runs in the eighth, and Brian Wilson was ready to go. It seemed foolhardy at best to push his starter for another inning.
But there’s a reason I’m sitting in a cozy armchair instead of a dugout, because Lincecum rewarded Bochy’s faith in him with a dominant final showing.
After giving up a single, he got Coco Crisp to ground into a forceout. What followed was some of the best pitching I’ve seen from The Freak. On a 2-2 count, Lincecum got Daric Barton to swing helplessly at a 96-MPH scorcher above the letters. Then, he made Ryan Sweeney do his best Brandon Belt impression, lasering another heater for a called strike three.
I can’t say enough about his last pitch of the day. It was a masterpiece. It was so good—so pure, so perfect—I involuntarily power shrieked while rewatching the ninth inning this morning. A crisp 95-MPH fastball that just nailed the black. Seriously, stop whatever you’re doing, go to the nearest bathroom stall, and watch for yourself.
Gems like this one just don’t happen anymore. In 1998, 212 pitchers ended a game with a pitch count of 125 or more. In 2011, only 40 pitchers repeated the feat, including Lincecum. Last year, that number dropped to a measly three pitchers.
In other words, this game doesn’t happen without Bochy’s notoriously long leash.
Twenty years down the road, after the robots have taken over baseball and starters are yanked after 50 pitches, we’ll look back at this performance the same way we look back at Juan Marichal’s legendary 16-inning shutout today. And when our future selves slip away to the bathroom stalls for a quick trip down memory lane, we’ll have Bochy to thank.
Despite occupying a prominent spot at the top of the dugout stairs, it’s debatable how much credit managers really deserve for a team’s win-loss record. But every now and then, a manager has an opportunity to play a direct role in a game’s outcome.
That was the case here, as Bochy sealed a comeback victory for the Giants thanks to a sharp eye and a keen knowledge of the rulebook.
First, some context: This game was a pitchers’ duel for the ages, with a still-in-his-prime Lincecum battling up-and-coming superstar Clayton Kershaw. At least, that was what it was supposed to be. Instead, Lincecum got rocked for five runs in 4.2 innings, while the Giants managed to scrape together four runs (two earned) against Kershaw.
The Giants were trailing 5-4 going into the top of the ninth. Dodgers manager Joe Torre had been ejected from the game along with Clayton Kershaw in the seventh, leaving future Dodgers manager Don Mattingly in charge.
Fortunately for Mattingly, he didn’t have to do much. Hung-Chih Kuo made quick work of the Giants in the seventh and eighth, leading to the no-brainer decision to plug in All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton to finish the game.
Except…things didn’t quite go as planned. Juan Uribe singled, then Edgar Renteria walked. After a sacrifice bunt by Aaron Rowand and an intentional walk to Aubrey Huff, Mattingly paid a visit to the mound to calm his closer and talk strategy with his infield.
And then, Mattingly did the most Mattingly thing possible, recording what might be the first and only TOOTBLAN ever committed by a manager.
If you can’t watch the video, well, I recommend finding a bathroom stall. But if you really can’t watch it, here’s a description: Mattingly walks away from the mound, but quickly turns around and exchanges a few last words with his players. It appears the umpires have missed what just happened, but not eagle-eyed Bochy. He immediately calls attention to Mattingly’s managerial mishap, and with no one warming up in the bullpen, the Dodgers are forced to replace Broxton with a cold George Sherrill to face the modern-day Adonis, Andres Torres.
On the second pitch of the at-bat, Torres smacks a go-ahead two-run double to left-center, securing the comeback.
The word schaudenfreude gets tossed around a lot, but few things are sweeter than the boos of Dodgers fans harmonizing with the dulcet baritone of Jon Miller as he calls Mattingly “a very inexperienced manager.”
The last decade of Giants baseball has been a gold mine of highlights that’s left us feeling like Tom Waits after he’s found Mr. Pocket. But there’s one particular highlight that I’ll consistently rewatch every few months or so. It’s not the no-hitters or perfect game; it’s not Sergio Romo striking out Miguel Cabrera; it’s not Buster Posey lighting up Mat Latos.
No, the highlight I’m talking about is none other than Angel Pagan’s incredible walk-off, inside-the-park home run.
This game had all the makings of being one of the most infuriating viewing experiences ever. Barry Zito was starting. The home-plate umpire blew two huge calls. And Bochy got ejected in the eighth.
Now, I know what you’re saying. “But wait, ShutUpWesley, you said you wouldn’t focus on individual performances in compiling your list. How could Bochy have made an impact if he was stuck in the clubhouse?”
Well, first of all, why are you talking to me, peasant. Go bother my assistant. Second of all, while it’s true I’ve been looking for an excuse to post this highlight since coming on as a writer, I have it on good authority that Bochy played a much bigger role in the outcome of this game than it might first appear.
With the Giants down 5-4 in the bottom of the 10th, Bochy sat in the clubhouse grumbling to himself. Anyone watching would just assume it was Bochy up to his Bochy-noises way, but secretly, he was invoking the dark arts of the baseball demons, casting a hex on the Colorado Rockies and allowing spirits to possess the bodies of Pagan and Tim Flannery. All it cost the team was the 2013 season, Pagan’s hamstring, and Flannery’s common sense.
But that’s Bruce Bochy for you, masterfully handling the most forbidden of dark magic for the betterment of us all.
Thanks for the memories, Bochy, you wizard. And here’s to 49 more.