SAN FRANCISCO -- We've heard a lot about "The Script" when it comes to managers this postseason, as if a baseball game has suddenly become something you can graph, inning by inning, on an x-y axis. Setup guy No. 1 for the seventh, defensive replacement in the eighth, closer for the ninth and only the ninth. These guys with their chiseled-in-stone scripts might as well be typing up train schedules for all the imagination it takes.
But scripting doesn't always work in baseball, and the script for the second game of a three-game series against the Mets in May is far different from the realities of a season-in the-balance playoff game in mid-October. Each game is a living organism that moves in unpredictable ways, and a manager's ability to move along with it is vital. For a slow game, baseball can move fast -- fast enough to run away and hide from managers who sit and wait for it to conform to an ideal. The managers who foresee the moments of acceleration, it seems, are the ones best suited to succeed.
That said, it is quite possible that Giants manager Bruce Bochy begins every game with an outline of a script rolling around that prodigious dome of his. But his genius resides in his willingness to veer from it, to cross out lines and scribble notes in the margin and -- when the situation calls for it -- rip the whole thing up and just do what needs to be done. Some scripts, after all, look a whole lot better as confetti.
That movement, that innate and wholly confident ability to adjust and reconfigure and sometimes even start from scratch, is a big reason Bochy arguably is the greatest living October manager, and one of the best of all time. He and the Giants are heading to Kansas City, where they will attempt to win their World Series in five years. The five-game defeat of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series sent Bochy's postseason record with the Giants to a remarkable 30-11. To win 73 percent during any 41-game stretch of the regular season would be commendable; to win 73 percent in the postseason, when facing the best teams and their best pitchers, borders on mystical.
"I think what Boch does so well is understand his personnel," says Giants pitcher Jake Peavy, who started his career in San Diego with Bochy as his manager and re-joined him in San Francisco at the trading deadline this year. "He understands where these guys are mentally and physically. And he asks a lot of us at times, no doubt. But you freely give a lot when your manager believes and cares as much as he does. When he believes in you, it's a great feeling. It just runs from the first through the 25th man."
(All of this, of course, sidesteps the fact that simply being in Bochy's chamomile presence has been clinically proven to lower diastolic pressure an average of 20 percent.)
Take the events of the top of the ninth inning in the deciding Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday. The score was 3-3, and Bochy started the inning with his closer, Santiago Casilla, on the mound in a move that would elicit polite nods from the paint-by-numbers set. Ninth inning, tie game, at home . . . closer. Check.
But then the inning veered off script. Casilla loaded the bases by walking Tony Cruz with two out. He looked a bit wild, maybe even shaky. Bochy had left-hander Jeremy Affeldt warming in the pen, and when Cardinals manager Mike Matheny sent left-handed hitting Oscar Taveras to hit in the pitcher's spot, Bochy left the dugout and commenced that increasingly familiar walk to the mound. His head down, his mouth working the gum, his old catcher's knees necessitating short, choppy steps . . . He always seems to be thinking about what he's going to do when you know good and well he's already decided.
And as his left arm went up and Affeldt was summoned, Bochy once again became the guy who manages the game and not some prearranged version of how his team should be playing that game. He understands matchups and percentages, yes, but he also understands people and their inability to consistently conform to an ideal.
The bases were loaded and Affeldt can be wild. He was pitching in his fourth straight game. And yet, with the matchup in his favor and the confidence of his manager in his mind, he got Taveras on a weak tapper back to the mound.
"For Affeldt to come into that pressure situation -- you know he can get a little wild sometimes," says Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery, the longest-tenured member of Bochy's staff. "But Bruce prepares them to be ready for October. And when these games start, they go to a little different level."
The Giants' bullpen numbers this postseason are stupid: a .161 batting average against, 0.82 WHIP, .220 OBP. Most of that, of course, is talent. Some of it, though, is Bochy.
"In October, I see a lot of stuff he does in April, May and June," Flannery says. "Early in the season, the fans will be booing him because he'll stick with a guy too long or something. Some of them will yell into our dugout: 'Oh, come on! You still got a chance to win the wild card!' But he's getting them ready for this."
Bochy and Flannery worked together in San Diego, and the Padres were swept by the Yankees in the 1998 World Series. Back then, Bochy was seen as a good young manager, nothing like the probable Hall of Famer he is now. "A couple of things happened in that Series where a day later, I know he was wondering," Flannery says. "You learn from being in that environment."
Neither the Nationals' Matt Williams nor the Cardinals' Matheny -- Bochy's less-experienced counterparts in the NLDS and NLCS -- put up a fair fight. In the bottom of the ninth of Game 5, just seconds after Affeldt retired Taveras, Matheny called upon Michael Wacha to pitch for the first time in the postseason. He was managing an elimination game for his team as if it were that mid-May game against the Mets. Rather than defy conventional wisdom by bringing closer Trevor Rosenthal into a tie game on the road -- Matheny's exact words: "We can't bring him in in a tie-game situation. We're on the road" -- Matheny allowed Wacha to stay in and give up a crushing three-run walk-off homer to Travis Ishikawa. As a result, Matheny saved his best reliever (presumably) for an inning he never got to play.
The guys like Williams who say "I would never use my closer in the seventh" also stay with their closer in the ninth, no matter what, because the ninth inning is what he does. And if the closer fails, the rationale is ready-made: We lost the game because he didn't do his job.
It's interesting that Royals manager Ned Yost began the postseason with an ironclad belief in the natural order of things -- remember when he said he wouldn't use Kelvin Herrera in a tight spot in the sixth because "he's our seventh-inning guy"? -- but has evolved to the point where he's nearly willing to go full Bochy and abandon the script.
"Anytime Boch has a group that believes, you'll see he's really good at putting guys in situations where they're comfortable," Peavy says. "He puts them where they believe they can succeed, and where he believes they can succeed. You check your ego at the door."
That isn't a given; this Giants team is an eclectic bunch. There's a couple of old sages in Tim Hudson and Peavy. There's a reserved star in Buster Posey and a somewhat fragile reliever in Sergio Romo, and -- that rarest of breeds -- an emotionless closer in Casilla. There's an instructional video gone bad in Hunter Pence and a slightly goofy Michael Morse, who treats a single in May like a winning Powerball ticket and a game-tying, pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning of the deciding game of the NLCS like his opportunity to spread his wings and take flight.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean describes Bochy's gift by saying: "He doesn't have a doghouse."
It's all so deceptively simple. It's not that Bochy treats them all the same as much as it's just the opposite: He treats them all based on who they are, whenever that may be.