The easiest decision Bruce Bochy had all night was when to put Madison Bumgarner in the game.
The hardest thing was supposed to be deciding when to take him out.
Actually it wasn’t that tough. You don’t win three World Series in five years without knowing that sometimes the best buttons are the ones not pushed.
The hottest pitcher on the planet wanted the ball in the one game that mattered most. Once he got it, the unassuming man just starting to get some credit as one of the great managers of his era stayed out of his way.
”Our horse was out there and we rode him,” Bochy said. ”He was throwing so well there was no way I was taking him out.”
A World Series that struggled to get noticed will now likely be long remembered, thanks to a laconic lefty who won it almost by himself. Bumgarner took the ball on two days of rest in the fifth inning and never came close to giving it up, even when a misplayed single to center put the tying run on third base with two outs in the ninth.
A lot of managers would have gone for their closer by sheer habit by then. Bochy merely stood and watched as Bumgarner got Salvador Perez to foul out to third baseman Pablo Sandoval to cap a World Series performance that brought back memories of pitchers from the past with names like Koufax and Gibson.
”I think the best word that comes to mind is legendary,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. ”I’m just glad he brought me along for the ride.”
Give Bumgarner credit – and plenty of it – for rising to the occasion in a 3-2 win in a World Series that went all the way to the final out of Game 7 before being decided. He won two games, saved the final, and was virtually unhittable each time he took the mound.
But give Bochy credit, too, for refusing to bow to pressure and start his ace in Game 4, a game the Giants desperately needed in San Francisco. Give him credit also for opting not to start Bumgarner in Game 7, even when he knew an aging Tim Hudson probably didn’t have what it took to last many innings against the Kansas City Royals.
Finally, give him a third World Series ring for bringing Bumgarner in to start the fifth and letting his ace do the rest.
”I was trying to think along with Boch and was thinking maybe three (innings) out of him,” catcher Buster Posey said. ”But he just kept rolling. It was unbelievable.”
The same might be said of the most improbable of the Giants’ three World Series runs with a team that returned only Posey as a position player from the 2010 World Series. It was just a month ago at Dodger Stadium where the Dodgers paused long enough in celebrating their division win to glance over at the Giants’ dugout and see Bochy and his coaches tipping their caps to them.
After going through the wild card game to win a third title, maybe it’s time others start tipping their caps to a manager who just seems to find ways to put his players in a position to win.
”He always has faith in us and he shows it,” Belt said. ”We pick up on it and it makes us play better.”
The Giants rewarded Bochy’s faith in them when it counted most, less than 24 hours after getting blown out 10-0 in Game 6. They scratched out a couple of runs early, got the go ahead run in the fourth, then sat back and watched as Bumgarner retired batter after batter in despite throwing 117 pitches on Sunday in San Francisco.
Setup man Sergio Romo watched what was happening and didn’t even bother to stretch. He knew he wouldn’t be needed on the one night in baseball when pitch counts meant nothing.
In the dugout there was no discussion about when Bumgarner might come out. Bochy simply let his star pitcher do his thing, and five innings of two-hit ball later the Giants were world champions.
Afterward, the talk was about dynasties and with three titles in five years the Giants certainly qualify, even if few outside the Bay Area can figure out how they do it. Great pitching helps, of course, but the sum of this team seems to always be better than the players you see on the field.
That’s the mark of a good general manager in Brian Sabean, and a man who is in his 20th year of managing in the big leagues seems to have the job down pat.
”They know what kind of guys to bring in here,” Bumgarner said. ”They’re winners, they got it in their DNA.”
That includes the pitcher whose name will be in the record books among the World Series greats.
But don’t forget the manager. He’s not too shabby, either.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg