Following Bochy's lead, Giants have swagger back
San Francisco rediscovers itself, overcomes adversity and runs toward NL West flag
DENVER -- The last time the Giants were in Colorado, they were coming off an 10-game homestand and had lost seven of eight games, including three of four to the Mets. Their lead in the National League West was down to a half-game over the Los Angeles Dodgers. And the Bay Area faithful were wavering.That first night at Coors Field, manager Bruce Bochy called a team meeting. "It's the only one we've had this year," said reliever Jeremy Affeldt. But it was time. "We had a tough homestand and some guys were pressing," said Bochy. "Seemed like it was time to talk to the guys." The focus was the movie "Day of Thunder" and how a race-car driver who was in a bad wreck had a moment of uncertainty when he returned to the track and there was a wreck in front of him. "He had lost his confidence and swagger," said Bochy. "Robert Duvall was his partner, and told him, 'Just press on the gas and get by it. Trust me.'" The Giants, obviously, trust Bochy. With a 9-8 victory against the Rockies at Coors Field on Tuesday night, the Giants have gone 24-13 since that Aug. 3 movie review that preceded a three-game sweep in Colorado, and they have extended their NL West lead to six games. Not too shabby considering that on Aug. 3, the Dodgers -- their pursuers -- acquired right-hander Joe Blanton from Philadelphia. Twenty-two days later, they shook up the baseball world with a blockbuster in which they acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, injured outfielder Carl Crawford, starting pitcher Josh Beckett and infielder Nick Punto from Boston. The Giants? They signed free agent Xavier Nady on Aug. 5, claimed lefty Jose Mijares off waivers from Kansas City on Aug. 9, and then on Aug. 15 learned that cleanup hitter Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's drug agreement. Predictions of the Giants' pending demise were rampant. "[General manager Brian Sabean] had a meeting, but it wasn't a big deal," said Affeldt. "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." The Giants have dealt with it well. They lost, 6-4, to Washington the day Cabrera was suspended, but then won 16 of the next 24 games, and continued to make it look easy to win on the road, where they have 20 victories in their last 27 games. It all starts with Bochy, the understated manager, who is much more comfortable talking about the Cy Young candidacy of Matt Cain and MVP potential of Buster Posey than the idea that the success of the Giants is tied more closely to their 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 as well if not better than anybody else's players, even if he is relatively obscure despite having the third-longest managerial tenure (18 years) and the third-most victories (1,440) of any current manager, trailing only Jim Leyland and Dusty Baker in both categories. Bochy helped create respect for a San Diego franchise that he managed for 12 years before then-Padres president Sandy Alderson let Bochy know he needed to move on, at which time he joined the Giants. In his fourth season with San Francisco, 2010, he guided the Giants to their first World Series championship since 1954, when they were still playing in New York's Polo Grounds. It's not always easy, but for Bochy, managing is always fun. This year alone, he has had to mix-and-match his way through late innings because All-Star closer Brian Wilson, after only two appearances, finally gave in to the shoulder problems that had bothered him since the second half of last year. The Giants have responded with a bullpen that has six pitchers who have earned a save, including one by Wilson before his season-ending surgery. They dealt with the five-week loss of the middle-of-the-lineup bat of Pablo Sandoval to the disabled list in May and June. They have shaken off the 8-14 record that the assumed ace of the rotation, Tim Lincecum, took into a scheduled start at Colorado on Wednesday. And they shook off the constant efforts of the Dodgers to improve, which even before August included their swinging a deal for Miami shortstop Hanley Ramirez and left-hander Randy Choate and Philadelphia outfielder Shane Victorino. No big deal. Bochy wouldn't let it be. "You have to deal with certain things in life," said Bochy. "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." That, in itself, is a virtual filibuster from Bochy.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.