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Bochy Bum 2014

In part 5 of his series, Neyer pays homage to the modern managers by discussing Bruce Bochy's treatment of Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 World Series. In Game 7, Bochy pitched Bumgarner in an extended relief effort even though he went the distance in Game 5.

By Rob Neyer, April 21, 2017

“This is a big stage, a loud crowd, but he just keeps that maniacal focus you like when you need to, and he’s as good as anyone I’ve seen at it.”
~Bruce Bochy on Madison Bumgarner’s 2014 World Series performance
SD Dirk on Flickr

Most of the stories in this series have been about, or will be about, some seriously archival stuff. Now, I don’t think managers in the olden days were better or smarter than our recent legends. And I certainly could have written about Joe Torre’s willingness to use Mariano Rivera for more than an inning in October, or about Terry Francona or Joe Maddon or (dare I say it?) Ned Yost.

The truth is that managers today just aren’t as large as they used to be. That is, they’re not larger than life any more. John McGraw and Casey Stengel and Billy Martin . . . these were household names. Today, there are undoubtedly millions of casual baseball fans who can’t name both 2016 World Series managers without a hint or three. There’s also this: With so many rounds of postseason playoffs, managers make many, many more high-leverage decisions than they used to, which makes it more difficult for particular decisions to stand out. Hell, I could write a whole book (or at least a monograph) about Torre’s October moves.

But let’s reserve a spot for the twenty-first century, and specifically for the only manager who has won three World Series in the twenty-first century: Bruce Bochy. He actually won three World Series in the space of five years, and he won them with the San Francisco Giants, who hadn’t won in their first 52 seasons.

Obviously, Bochy has done a lot of things—big things, little things, and all those medium things in between—well during his Hall of Fame career. But among all those things, the most dramatic thing Bochy has ever done took place in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.

First, just setting the stage . . . Bochy’s Giants squeaked into the postseason, but ace Madison Bumgarner needed only 109 pitches to whitewash the Pirates in the National League’s Wild Card Game. He pitched well against the Nationals in his one Division Series start, but lost (yes, the Giants actually won a postseason series without any help from their best pitcher). In the NLCS, he beat the Cardinals in Games 1 and 5.

Then, the World Series. Bumgarner and the Giants cruised in Game 1, 7–1. Five days later in Game 5, he pitched a shutout, but it wasn’t quite a breeze. The score was 2–0 until the bottom of the eighth, when the Giants added three insurance runs. Even with the 5–0 lead, Bochy sent out Bumgarner for the ninth inning. Which resulted in 117 pitches, the most he’d thrown in a game since early August.

This sign was used to signify Madison Bumgarner’s strike out of Jarrod Dyson in Game 5 of the 2014 World Series.

When it happened, I thought Bochy was . . . well, I guess we’re not supposed to say nuts any more. But Bumgarner had thrown 107 pitches in his first eight innings. Nearly every starting pitcher, no matter how great, isn’t as good as the bullpen after he’s thrown 107 pitches. And that’s without even considering Bumgarner’s potential availability later in the World Series, especially if the Royals won Game 6 to force a climactic Game 7.

The Royals blew out the Giants in Game 6, 10–0, which set up Game 7 in Kansas City.

Now, it was widely believed that Bumgarner, even with those 117 pitches just three days earlier, would be available out of the bullpen. In fact, it was widely expected that he would pitch at some point, assuming of course the game was close.

Nobody, however, expected how much he would pitch.

Tim Hudson started Game 7 for the Giants. Hudson was 39 years old! He was the oldest pitcher to start the seventh game of a World Series in history (beating out Roger Clemens by 15 days). Hudson had pitched quite well during the regular season—he was an All-Star and finished the season with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his brilliant career—but he’d also faded some down the stretch, averaging just five innings per start. He’d been great in his first postseason start, but just decent in his next two. And fairly or not, there was a general sort of feeling—shared, it would later be apparent, by his manager—that Hudson was just about out of gas.

In the event, Bruce Bochy had Hudson on an incredibly short leash. Nobody scored in the first inning. In the second inning, the Giants took a 2–0 lead against Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie (like Hudson, a veteran who didn’t seem to have much left in the tank by this point). In the bottom of the second, the Royals answered with two runs of their own—there were a couple of groundball singles, a double, a hit batter, an RBI line out—and Hudson was (metaphorically) off to the showers, having recorded only five outs.

Left-hander (and ex-Royals phenom) Jeremy Affeldt trotted in from the bullpen and escaped the jam, then he set down the Royals with aplomb in the third and fourth innings. By this point the Giants led 3–2, with Guthrie now out of the game. So it would be a long, long battle of the bullpens. What we couldn’t know in the fourth inning was that nobody would score again.

What else couldn’t we know? Madison Bumgarner would turn in the longest string of shutout relief innings in a World Series game in 30 years, and it would be the longest such skein in a World Series Game 7 in nearly 70 years.

But he did, and it was.

The Royals’ top three relief pitchers were spectacular, as they’d been all season. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland combined for 5-2/3 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts, permitting four hits and zero walks. Bumgarner wasn’t quite as spectacular, except for the fact that he’d thrown those 117 pitches just three days earlier and was protecting the slimmest of leads in the largest of all possible games.

Actually, Bumgarner gave up a line-drive single to the first batter (Omar Infante) he faced, in the bottom of the fifth . . . then he retired the next 14 Royals. No other Royal would reach base until, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Alex Gordon shot a liner into left field that somehow got past the left fielder and all the way to the wall. There was a second or two when it seemed that Gordon might actually circle the bases, but he (wisely) stopped at third base.

After Gordon, Bumgarner retired Sal Perez on a foul pop to clinch the Giants’ third championship in five years.

In 2016, managers did some radical things with their bullpens. But if anyone showed the way—showed that the rules simply have to change in incredibly high-leverage October situations—it was Bruce Bochy two years earlier.

Source: David on Flickr




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