Entries in Bruce Bochy (34)


S.F. Examiner: It’s spring, so time to ease back into baseball

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

MESA, Ariz. — Winter hung in the air, one more brief shower for the Valley of the Sun. But on the field Tuesday unofficially it was spring, the Giants and the A’s in a game that while it didn’t mean anything, it conversely meant a great deal.

Ballplayers on the diamond, people in the stands, both delighted to be in the presence of the other.

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner 


Nobody wins seventh game on road — except Giants

By Art Spander

The story was in my head if not yet in my computer: Giants lose. Road teams don’t win the seventh game. Not after they’ve dropped the sixth game. Look at history. Look at the Giants in 2002.

What I failed to look at was the Giants of 2014.

Home teams had won the seventh game nine times in a row since 1979. Too bad, Giants. No, too good. Precedent be damned. Somebody had to break the streak. Did we dare imagine it would be the Giants?

The last time the Giants were in this position was 12 years ago in Anaheim. The Angels, as we know, won the last two and won the Series. And J.T. Snow, then the Giants' first baseman, sat staring at his locker and saying so quietly, “You play seven months, and it all comes down to one game.”

That game belonged to the Giants on Wednesday night, the Giants and remarkable Madison Bumgarner and brilliant Bruce Bochy and everyone else in the visiting clubhouse. That game made nervous wrecks of fans watching at San Francisco’s Civic Center and in taverns from Sausalito to San Leandro. That game, a 3-2 victory over Kansas City, also made the Giants champions a third time in five years.

Maybe not a dynasty, compared to the Yankees of the late 1940s and early '50s, but not unimpressive either, particularly since after moving to San Francisco in 1958, the Giants couldn’t win a single championship for 52 years.

"Nearly men" is the British phrase. People who come close but never reach the top. But that’s all done now. Three in five years. This one with Matt Cain out half the season. This one with a search for a second baseman until Joe Panik arrived in late summer. This one with Brandon Belt missing because of a concussion. This one after the Giants were stomped by the Dodgers during the regular season.

“Ya gotta believe.” The Mets fans originated that phrase when their expansion team rose from hopelessness (40-120 in 1962) to win the 1969 World Series. The team gained a nickname the New York tabloids still use, “Amazin’.” The Post only calls them “The Amazin’s.”

The Amazin’ Giants. Wild cards. Wild champions. Defier of odds who win in the evens: ’10, ’12 and now ’14. How did they do it?

Tim Lincecum slumps. Matt Cain needs surgery. Marco Scutaro never shows. Angel Pagan is out much of the year. “These guys are resilient,” Bochy has said so many times. Unquestionably.

And something I ignored: Winning breeds winning. The Giants, as are all great teams — and three titles in five years allows the use of the word “great” — understand who they are and how to succeed.

You’ve head the cliché so often. They do the little things, which turn out big. Kansas City was going to run the Giants to the Missouri state line. It didn’t work out that way. The Giants are the ones who took the extra base. The Giants were the ones who found heroes at virtually every position or in front of virtually every locker.

Panik turns a probable hit into a double play. Juan Perez, a 170 hitter, hangs one off the centerfield wall at AT&T Park. Travis Ishikawa comes out of the minors to hit the Giants' biggest home run in 63 years. Pablo Sandoval can’t hit in April and can’t miss in October. And Hunter Pence is irrepressible.

What this World Series reminded us is what the 1960 World Series, won by the Pirates over the Yankees, taught us: each game is a separate entity. A 10-0 loss is no different than a 1-0 loss. In fact it’s probably better. Except for the fans.

The Giants were pummeled Tuesday. That wasn’t as important as the simple fact that the Royals, who at the start of this postseason won their first eight games, had drawn even in the 2014 World Series. And had the seventh game at home. Which meant they would win.

Except they didn’t win. The Giants won. The Giants are the new Yankees. The Giants are the new Cardinals. The Giants are the team that doesn’t care what anyone predicts or says.

On Tuesday, after that one-sided defeat, Bochy was asked why he wouldn’t start Bumgarner in the seventh game. He smirked, but instead of berating the questioner, responding with something like, “What do you know about baseball?” Bochy said something like, “Everybody is a manager.”

On the Giants there is but one manager, Bruce Bochy. He brought in Bumgarner at just the perfect time. But of course.

These are the perfect times for the Giants, the times of their lives, the times of our lives. Who knows what the future holds? The present is fantastic. I don’t think I’ll write that “Giants lose’’ story. Ever.


Giants still can’t hit

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s impossible to dislike Bruce Bochy. He never belittles his players, never gives the press the slightest chance to find something wrong with the Giants.

Even when there is something wrong with the Giants.

They’re not hitting. Other than Angel Pagan (.377), Brandon Crawford (.311) and the new guy, Michael Morse (.306).

And since Pagan and Crawford didn’t start on Thursday, their day of rest after two night games and ahead of a trip to San Diego, the Giants couldn’t hit.

At least not well enough to beat the Dodgers, who won 2-1 Thursday before the usual sellout at AT&T Park after the Giants had taken the first two games of the series.

“Win two out every three,” said Madison Bumgarner, “you’re doing OK.” Absolutely. Win three out of three, you’re doing better.

Someone had the temerity to ask Bochy if this Giants team, as Giant teams of the past few years, was strictly dependent on pitching — which, of course it is.

“I don’t think so,” was Bochy’s answer. “I think we saw great pitching in this series (against the Giants).”

Is that why Hunter Pence is hitting .206, Pablo Sandoval .175?

“We’re not swinging the bats right now,” said the manager. “It’s hard to put runs on the board.”

Hasn’t it always been the last five years? A week ago Matt Cain held Colorado to one run. And lost, 1-0. Nightmares of the past, when Tim Lincecum went through the same problems.

Every game becomes agony, the bite-your-cuticles, hold-your-heart complications that Mike Krukow, the pitcher turned TV announcer, labeled “sweet torture.” 

Sweet if you win, that is. And how can the Giants win if they keep leaving men on base and Sandoval literally isn’t hitting his weight?   

Three times he came to the plate with Pence on base Thursday and never got a ball out of the infield.

In the last five games, the Giants scored a total 11 runs. That they won three of those is attributable to Sergio Romo, Jean Machi and others on the pitching staff.

Bumgarner started Thursday and made it only into the fifth before Bochy decided to change — even though Mad Bum had given up only one run. Then again, there were Dodgers on first and second when he was relieved by Yusmeiro Petit.

“The outside corner was hard to get today,” said Bochy of Bumgarner, who walked three and gave up six hits. Whether that was Bumgarner’s fault or the fault of home place ump Seth Buckminster can be debated.

Unarguable is the fact that Sandoval, the third-place hitter, is having a miserable time, most likely because this is the last year of his contract and he’s trying to make a big-dollar impression on whomever (Giants or any team) would sign him.

Bochy said that Sandoval should be thinking of hitting, that his agents are the ones who ought to be concerned with salaries and the like. It’s human nature, however, for a man to let the situation control his life.

“It’s got to be in his mind,” said a former Giants player.

Bochy said Sandoval, with only 11 hits, two homers and six RBI in 63 at bats is “really pressing. But it’s his job to play and not let anything else be a distraction.”

Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was distracting enough for the Giants. He pitched a shutout for seven innings before leaving the game for a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth.

“We had the right guys up,” said Bochy, referring to when the Giants scored a run and had two more runners on, in the ninth against Kenley Jansen.

That would be Ehire Adrianza, who, taking over at second on a double-switch in the fifth, had three hits, one of those driving in Brandon Belt with San Francisco’s only run.

That would be Crawford, who pinch-hit for Joaquin Arias and flied out to end the game.

Bochy was not distraught. “The pitching,” he said about the series, “was really good for us.”

It had to be. Because the hitting was really bad for them.

“There’s not a guy out there I don’t have confidence in,” said Bochy, the general in support of his troops.

Statements such as that always are appreciated and admirable. A single at the proper time would be just as appreciated.


Sad September song for the Giants

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — A sad September song at AT&T Park. An autumn with nothing but memories, an autumn of dreams as faded as the leaves.

Something new for the San Francisco Giants and their fans, a final week of a season that went so awkwardly wrong that on Tuesday night the Giants again had to face the pitcher who once was their savior.

Brian Wilson out there on the mound in a Dodger uniform, throwing against the Giants the crackling, snapping, unhittable balls he once threw for them. The Dodgers, the division-champion Dodgers, getting a couple of home runs and beating the Giants, 2-1. How mortifying. How depressing.

Two of Matt Cain’s pitches were driven halfway to Oakland, one by Yasiel Puig, a couple of innings after Cain presumably hit Puig intentionally, and another by Matt Kemp. And the way the Giants can’t hit — they scored only three runs in three runs against the Yankees over the weekend — that was enough.

They’re playing for pride now, and nostalgia. Barry Zito, for the last time, was to pitch Wednesday for San Francisco. A reward. A farewell. A what-the-heck, why not?

It was supposed to be Madison Bumgarner’s turn, but Giants manager Bruce Bochy was thinking of the future — and the past. MadBum will sit out the rest of this disappointing year, having pitched one inning short of 200, while Zito gets his final chance before heading into the sunset. Or onto the roster of another team.

A seven-year contract of $127 million, which became bigger than anything Zito did or couldn’t do with a baseball. A contract of hope and controversy. Boos and jibes, but through it all Zito stood tall, acted the gentleman until the end, and in 2012 helped pitched the Giants to their World Series win.

"There were a lot of things I would have liked to go better,” Zito told the San Francisco Chronicle, “but when it's all said and done, I'll always know I helped the team win a World Series. That's huge for me."

And it remains huge for Bochy and the front office. They’re bringing Zito on stage once more, a victory lap if you will in a year when victories have been rare, for Zito (4-11 record, 5.91 ERA) and the Giants (72-85 after Tuesday night).

“I wanted to see him have one more start,” said Bochy, who deals in sentiment as well as anyone in baseball. “This is the best time. He’s done a lot. We know what he did last year for us. He has done everything we asked.”

The days dwindle down to a precious few. Such poignant lyrics. It is up to the Oakland Athletics alone to play October baseball by the bay this year. The A’s came through. The Giants are through.

There was a sequence in the top of the eighth on Tuesday night that was perfectly representative of this imperfect year for the Giants. With Kemp on first for the Dodgers and two out, reliever Jean Machi struck out A.J. Ellis. Buster Posey, the MVP, dropped the ball, which happens, but his routine throw to first for the out was short of Brandon Belt, and Ellis was on first and Kemp on third with the error.        

That rarely happens. Fortunately, for the Giants, Mark Ellis grounded out.

The Giants’ defense has been terrible this season, devastating for a team that has trouble scoring runs. The middle of the order, the big guns offensively, have failed with men on base. In the three games against the Yankees and one against L.A., the Giants got four runs total.

“We’re cold right now,” affirmed Bochy, talking as if San Francisco had a few months remaining rather than only a few games. “The series in New York, we didn’t swing the bats very well either.”

Zito will pitch then depart. That’s a given. What then happens to Tim Lincecum, who has been occasionally brilliant — the no-hitter — and frequently erratic. Do the Giants re-sign him?

What they must do is sign a power hitter, presumably to play left. What they must do is somehow persuade or order Pablo Sandoval to get into shape. He will be in his contract year in 2014. Pablo has only 13 home runs — and three were game in one game.

What they absolutely must do is pick up ground balls and throw them into a glove, not into right field or center field.

Bochy, not unexpectedly, insisted Cain pitched well, and Cain did pitch well. But the slightest mistakes, the two balls hit for home runs, are critical when a team can’t get runners home — and except for a solo homer by Tony Abreu in the fifth, the Giants couldn’t get runners home.

“We couldn’t get much going,” said Bochy.

When have they ever in this 2013 season?


Zito deserved a better ending

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — He deserved a better ending. Maybe not red-carpet, but not red-faced either.

Barry Zito should have been able to walk away with a smile, with the cheers of thousands ringing in his ears. That’s the way it happens in the movies. The way it happens in reality was played out on a depressing Wednesday at AT&T Park.

The guess is that the game Zito pitched against the Boston Red Sox, the game the Giants in this what-else-can-go-wrong season would lose 12-1, was his last start for San Francisco, his farewell in a year during which neither he nor his team fared well.

Zito wasn’t very effective, not that anyone expected him to be, and the Giants, who can’t field and can’t hit, were even less so. A franchise in search of itself, and reasons for the decline, surely will try someone, anyone, other than Zito from here on out — unless injury demands otherwise.

So it is time to acknowledge the man, as opposed to the player, because Barry Zito was always a man no matter how poorly he threw or how miserably he was treated by the media or the fans.

Good times — and he knew those — or bad times, Zito was mature and in control. If not always in control of a fastball or curve.

I’ve dealt with the best and the rudest in a half century of sports journalism, athletes whose response to even the most harmless of questions could be an obscenity or a quick rush to a hiding place.  

Barry Zito took the blows. What he didn’t take was the criticism as personal. He accepted it as part of the job.

Sure he had the big salary, but that’s the nature of the beast. If you had won a Cy Young Award, as did Zito with the Athletics, and you were in demand in a seller’s market, the dollars would be there.

The Giants wanted this Barry to be a softer, more kindly face of the team than the other Barry, Bonds, so they spent and acquired him.

Zito didn’t pay off. Not until last season, 2012, when needed most.

In the playoffs, in the World Series, he pitched with guile and grace. The Giants don’t win a championship without Zito. Nothing could be more apparent.

Other than the fact his days with the Giants are numbered. They sent him to the bullpen briefly, then Wednesday, gave him the opportunity to start. “He could have come out better,” said Bruce Bochy, the San Francisco manager, who is marvelously protective. “He hung a slider...”

That was smacked into the left field seats in the second inning by Will Middlebrooks. Only 2-0 at that point, but the demons were hovering.

The night before, Tuesday, the Giants won their only game of the series from Boston, a game that in itself might not have meant much but could have been seen as a small step toward the respectability that had flown with the wind.

“The season hasn’t gone the way we hoped,” Bochy had said, as if the fact had to be verbalized. It hasn’t gone the way he hoped, the front office hoped and most of all the way the fans hoped.

“But we have some pride,” Bochy said. 

And almost out of nowhere, they had a 3-2 victory over the Red Sox at AT&T Park, because Ryan Vogelsong became the pitcher he had been — and surely has a chance to be next season — and because Brayan Villarreal walked Marco Scutaro with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth on the only four pitches he threw.

Such a disaster, the defending World Series champion Giants, with a lousy defense, a pathetic offense and pitching that at best could be called erratic.

The way everything went right in 2012 is the way almost everything has gone wrong in 2013.

Except the attendance, the Giants now with 229 consecutive regular-season sellouts. The fans keep coming because the tickets were sold and — because, as on Tuesday — they may be rewarded.

“We have a huge fan base,” agreed Bochy. “I was disappointed in the way we played Monday night (losing 7-0).”

He was even more disappointed Wednesday. “We drifted mentally,” he said. “That shouldn’t happen playing a good team like Boston. We had played well the night before.”

So Zito will be gone in 2014. As will Tim Lincecum. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, as now, continue to be the main men of a franchise built around pitching. Vogelsong’s work Tuesday night indicates he should be No. 3. And then?

Maybe the Giants obtain another starter — without Zito or Lincecum’s salaries on the ledger, there will be room financially. More likely they go after a left fielder, someone with power.

Yet whoever is on the mound or in left, the fielding must improve. There are 30 teams in the majors. The Giants rank 29th in defense.

“It’s hard to explain,” said Bochy.

He didn’t need to explain his choice of Zito, who a month earlier had been pulled from the rotation.

“I think (Zito) has earned this,” Bochy said Tuesday. “He’s a guy who has done a lot for us. I know it’s been an up-and-down year. He’s been waiting for his turn, so he gets to go first. My hope is he goes out and throws the ball great and stays in the rotation.”

He didn’t. He won’t.