Had Lou Piniella not come to the Cubs, Bruce Bochy might not be managing the Giants in the World Series.
Updated: November 28, 2010 4:54PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy came thisclose to spending the last four years as the Cubs' manager -- even if he never did get a formal interview during the courtship of Lou Piniella.
Despite wild speculation -- and over-the-top Cubbie love -- Joe Girardi was never the No. 2 choice on general manager Jim Hendry's wish list when he was searching for a manager to replace Dusty Baker four years ago this month. Sure, Girardi got a John McDonough-enforced interview. Even longest of long shots Ryne Sandberg got one of those.
But Bochy was the real safety net in Hendry's mind had Piniella gotten his first choice in October 2006 to manage the New York Yankees instead of the Cubs. When the Yankees retained Joe Torre for one more season -- closing the door on Piniella's dream of closing his career in the Bronx -- he moved from a New York state of mind to preaching Cubbie Swagger (remember that- ).
It was easy to forget about Bochy in the early years of Hurricane Lou.
While Piniella's Cubs were disappointing fans by getting swept out of the first round of the playoffs in 2007 and '08, Bochy, who had jumped from the San Diego Padres to the division-rival San Francisco Giants, was presiding over a forgettable end to the Barry Bonds era. That meant 91 losses in 2007, followed by 90 losses in '08.
Back then, no one was lamenting how Hendry let the good choice get away. Now, maybe Hendry would've been better off had Piniella gone back to his beloved pinstripes.
''I've always thought [Bochy] was an outstanding manager,'' Hendry said Tuesday. ''I thought [the Padres] always did a great job of contending with what most experts thought weren't contending-type clubs. Very consistent, even-keeled guy that I've admired from afar.''
Despite having offensively challenged teams, Bochy pushed the Giants back into the National League West discussion. Granted, he was blessed with some of the best young pitching in baseball, the same talented arms that have virtually carried the Giants to the World Series, where they will play host to the Texas Rangers in Game 1 tonight at AT&T Park.
Bochy -- the former big-league catcher who spent his playing career living in the shadows as an unheralded backup -- never looked like a sexy choice to manage the Cubs when Piniella seemed to be getting pulled toward New York at the last minute. Bochy doesn't rant and rave. He doesn't appear in commercials or offer Chicago-style sound bites. He mostly mumbles his answers.
''We'll keep it simple here,'' was Bochy's trademark response to how he will tackle his first World Series assignment as Giants manager.
But Bochy showed a side of himself during the NL Championship Series -- yes, he got his team past a first round -- that Cubs fans had to appreciate. He managed with his gut. And he managed with a sense of urgency.
We're talking about Game 6 of a series the Giants were leading 3-2. They didn't have to treat Game 6 as an elimination game, but unlike the by-the-book Girardi with his trailing Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, Bochy pulled out all the stops and went for the kill.
Game 6 starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez clearly wasn't himself, and Bochy could see that by the third inning, with the Philadelphia Phillies leading 2-0. Bochy pulled Sanchez in favor of lefty Jeremy Affeldt, the first of five relievers -- a group that included rotation ace Tim Lincecum and Game 4 starter Madison Bumgarner -- to pitch seven scoreless innings to clinch the series.
Was Sanchez miffed-
''I knew the bullpen would do it,'' he said. ''We've got the best bullpen in the major leagues.''
And when he set his World Series rotation, Bochy kept Sanchez in the group, bumping out high-priced veteran Barry Zito. That's the way Bochy does business.
''We're here because of what Jonny did down the stretch,'' Bochy said. ''We're not going to go by a one-game hiccup.''
There's a lot to like about Bochy.
Certainly, Bochy had taken his postseason lumps, losing 10 of 11 postseason games entering 2010. But he never lost steam. By midway through 2009, Piniella already had quit on his Cubs -- though it would take him a full year to finally walk away. Bochy was still plugging along, knowing he wasn't backed by the same kinds of resources in San Francisco that Piniella enjoyed in Chicago.
So what if Bochy looks like he needs his pulse checked during games- He squeezes the most out of his teams -- Piniella did that only in 2007.
It's hard not to wonder what Bochy would've done with the Cubs over the last four years.
''This team's been tested all year,'' Bochy said of his Giants. ''We lose [Game 5] in San Francisco, and everybody was saying, 'Well, we're in trouble.' ... But we found a way to get it done.''
RANGERS VS. GIANTS