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Senior Baseball Columnist

NL champs again, Giants in select company thanks to Bochy's deft guidance


Acquiring Marco Scutaro proves to be another quiet move that pays off big for the Giants. (US Presswire)  
Acquiring Marco Scutaro proves to be another quiet move that pays off big for the Giants. (US Presswire)  

SAN FRANCISCO -- Torrential rain drenched them. Circumstances had nearly swallowed them. Emotions almost overtook them.

Yet the Giants stood taller than ever Monday night after knocking off the Cardinals.

The hour was late and dreams were vivid. And on a hastily constructed stage in shallow center field, while accepting the National League Championship trophy, San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean uttered a sentence regarding Bruce Bochy that maybe hadn't been considered before.

"He's a Hall of Fame manager, in my mind," Sabean said.

And you know what?

Let's roll that one around on the emerald green AT&T Park field for a moment.

That may sound strange and premature. For now, it absolutely is.

But as they step into a second World Series in three seasons, these Giants, much like their play on the field this autumn, are elevating their franchise to another level.

Plenty of teams catch lightening in a bottle once. It's those that win a World Series again, and again, that attain a special status out of reach for most franchises.

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After moving to San Francisco from New York in 1958, the Giants did not win a World Series until 2010. There were plenty of excuses -- poor ownership, windy Candlestick Park, Dusty Baker jinxing things by handing the Game 6 ball to Russ Ortiz in 2002 in Anaheim -- but few results.

Now, with solid ownership and a jewel of a ballpark, with the deft maneuvering of general manager Brian Sabean and the sturdy leadership of field manager Bruce Bochy, the Giants have ascended to an elite level among major-league franchises.

No small part of the success stems from continuity on the baseball side. Sabean, who succeeded Bob Quinn in 1997, is the longest-tenured GM in the game. So much of the Giants' run in 2010 and again this year is attributable to his acumen.

He acquired Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Mike Fontenot and reliever Javier Lopez for pennies on the dollar down the stretch in 2010. This year, it was Marco Scutaro -- this October's Cody Ross -- and Hunter Pence.

While most noticed the Giants' inability to re-sign free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran last winter, many of those same people overlooked Sabean's re-signing of key relievers Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt.

"A lot of teams seem to get more offensive," Affeldt said. "Get more power, get more hitting, get more runs."

You might have noticed, from Tim Linecum to Matt Cain and beyond, the Giants under Sabean are all about strong pitching. Recently, they've also been more and more about home-grown position players: catcher Buster Posey, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, first baseman Brandon Belt, shortstop Brandon Crawford.

"The way Sabean has brought this team and kept the pitching staff together, and added parts to the offense and parts to the defense to upgrade those areas as needed, allowed this team to come back for a second time in three [World Series]," Affeldt correctly analyzes.

As club president Larry Baer says, "Every year is a different movie. This one, you're down and out and it was like, 'Forget about it.' You lose your closer [Brian Wilson], left-fielder [Melky Cabrera], you've got other guys out like Freddy Sanchez ... they not only hung in there, they elevated."

No small part of the reason, in Sabean's mind, traces back to Bochy. A bear of a man who can be charmingly self-deprecating -- he's the first one to joke about the unusually large size of his head -- Bochy manages with a burglar's instincts and an assassin's sense of the kill.

Sabean tabbed him to replace Felipe Alou following the 2006 season when the John Moores Padres were chopping payroll and decided that a manager wasn't worth $1 million a year. Though Bochy was still under contract in San Diego, Sandy Alderson, the unfortunate president charged with executing Moores' wishes, famously said when granting San Francisco permission to speak with the manager, "There is only one way to [prove] to somebody that the grass is not greener, and that's to allow somebody to roll around it for a little while."

Oh, Bochy rolled around in it. Then he rolled some more, sunned himself and covered himself with the sod. In the years since, with the green thumb of a Hall of Fame gardener, he's fertilized that San Francisco grass until it's turned even greener.

"The job he's done, and the coaching staff has done, throughout the course of this year," Sabean says. "It's been a just reward for those guys. They're very talented, and very underrated."

Nowhere have Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti excelled more than with the relievers after the loss of Wilson. Baseball people have pooh-poohed the closer-by-committee idea for years. In expertly pulling the levers with Lopez, Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and others, Bochy has proven it can be done.

"Him and Rags handling the bullpen by committee, and still having to put those guys in positions where they can have success," Sabean marvels. "The amazing thing has been, it's been going all year. Wilson had one save opportunity, and we wound up tied for second in the National League in saves."

Actually, the Giants (53) ranked alone in second behind the Reds (56). Six different relievers contributed, led by Casilla's 25.

It's gotten off-the-charts crazy this postseason, with starters Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and even Ryan Vogelsong shuttling down to the bullpen at various times, on call.

There was a moment before Game 5 of the NLCS in St. Louis, with Barry Zito primed to start, when Affeldt walked by Bochy's office, minding his own business, when he suddenly heard that deep baritone voice summon him.

"I need you guys to be ready to go every inning for the rest of this NLCS," Bochy told Affeldt.

"I don't think he cares," Affeldt says. "If he needs 13 outs and he's got 13 pitchers, you might see 13 pitchers come in to get them."

Known as a no-nonsense players' manager, Bochy is leading his third team into World Series play. Before 2010, there was the 1998 Padres, who were swept by the Yankees. Bochy (1,454) ranks third among active managers in wins, trailing Jim Leyland (1,676) and Dusty Baker (1,581).

At 57 years, and given the way the Giants have it going, there is every chance that he could manage in more World Series after this one. Hall of Fame? Let's see what the next few years bring. The Giants' Hall of Fame? Absolutely.

What we're watching right now in San Francisco is the authoring of a masterpiece. Think the Red Sox run of winning two titles during a four-year span in 2004 and 2007, or the Cardinals winning twice during a six-year span in 2006 and 2011.

The 2010 season, deservedly so, remains uniquely special in San Francisco.

Wednesday night, when they break the tape on their second World Series appearance in three seasons, that's when the Giants become uniquely special to baseball.


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