SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Bruce Bochy heads down the stairs that lead from the clubhouse to the dugout, greeting each player he passes along the way.
Whether friendly during a winning streak or firm after a tough loss, the San Francisco Giants have come to rely on one thing when it comes to their manager: Boch, as they call him, has their best interests at heart.
Yet this year tested Bochy like no other in nearly two decades on the top dugout step.
Two wins away from joining an exclusive club of 22 other managers to win at least two World Series championships, even Bochy will acknowledge he never saw this special October run coming.
Two years after winning the title, the Giants took a 2-0 lead into Game 3 on Saturday night against the Detroit Tigers.
``You've worked hard to get here so enjoy it, savor it,'' he said.
Bochy is quick to point out that it's his players who deserve all the credit. Yet there's no denying his astute decision-making again this month, from every pitching change, pinch hitter and double-switch.
From moving two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum into the bullpen to giving Barry Zito a second chance after the pitcher was left off the roster for all three postseason rounds in 2010.
He also helped make the decision to stick with the players who brought the club this far, rather than adding Melky Cabrera to the mix for the NL championship series and risk ruining chemistry with a player coming off a 50-game suspension for a positive testosterone test.
``Hopefully you work at it and you get better with each year,'' Bochy said. ``It's like a player. I don't think you ever arrive as a player, I don't think you ever do as a manager.''
``You keep trying to get better and work on things, whether it's in game strategy or managing your players or even dealing with the media or front office, whatever it is,'' he said. ``You know, for myself, I don't see it difficult, but I do see you need to always try to improve in any area you can and become the best player or manager you can.''
Bochy made all the right moves in 2010, and he has been equally as spot on this October - albeit under far more challenging circumstances.
He lost All-Star closer Brian Wilson to a season-ending elbow injury way back in April. Slugger Pablo Sandoval, the Game 1 World Series star with a three-home run performance, spent two stints on the disabled list and dealt with a sexual assault investigation.
Then there was Cabrera's 50-game suspension Aug. 15, followed by the announcement Sept. 27 that the club would not be bringing him back.
His team charged on, unfazed by any of it. Outwardly, at least.
Bochy's mellow demeanor is a large part the reason why.
``He's a terrific manager,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ``We all have to handle things during the course of the year, and I think he handled the Melky Cabrera thing as well as anybody could have possibly handled it. ... He runs a good ship. He doesn't get too excited. He's tremendous with his bullpen. He was smart enough he's got three left-handers in the bullpen, so it's pretty versatile.''
``I think they know who's in charge,'' Leyland added. ``He knows exactly what he's doing.''
Of the nearly two dozen managers with at least two World Series titles, 13 are already in the Hall of Fame, with Joe Torre and Tony La Russa likely to join them. Leyland also is chasing his second managerial championship after winning with the Marlins in 1997, and his admiration for his World Series counterpart is considerable.
``He's one of the best managers in all of baseball, there's no question,'' Leyland said. ``Handles his bullpen tremendous, as good as you can handle a bullpen. He's at the head of the class with some other guys, there's no question about that. He's a tremendous manager. He's got a nice, calming influence about himself. You know who's in charge. He's everything that's good about baseball managers, in my opinion. He does it the right way. You never hear Bruce Bochy boasting himself or anything like that. You don't really hear much about him. He's terrific.''
The 57-year-old Bochy would join new Cleveland manager Terry Francona as the only active skippers with two or more World Series titles.
Not that he has had a spare moment to ponder that pursuit - or would ever bring it up anyway.
``He tells you everything when he needs to tell you,'' Sandoval said, benched during the 2010 World Series.
``I understood the things I had to do,'' he said.
Perhaps the biggest praise for Bochy this time around comes for how he has handled a patchwork bullpen and made it all operate so smoothly once the starter comes out - without the reliable Wilson, the 2010 majors leader with 48 saves.
Bochy, finishing up his 18th year as a skipper, began with Santiago Casilla as his ninth-inning guy and when he hit some bumps, turned to Sergio Romo or Javier Lopez.
Bochy also patiently waited out Brandon Belt as the first baseman did everything to eventually find his swing and his hitting groove, and he allowed first-year starting shortstop Brandon Crawford learn on the field.
``I think that's huge, huge for me, especially with a younger guy who struggles a little bit,'' Belt said. ``You lose a lot of confidence, but when you can look back and see that the front office, manager and coaches still have confidence in you, it gives you that little bit of hope you need to push through. I think that's what helped me a lot.''
Bochy mixed in Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence after they came aboard at the trade deadline. Then, he welcomed back Guillermo Mota when the reliever came off a 100-game drug suspension the pitcher blamed on children's cough syrup.
``We've also dealt with things that most managers and coaching staffs do that nobody ever knows about or hears about,'' general manager Brian Sabean said. ``The fact that we have won (103) games total, it's been a just reward for those guys because they're very talented and unfortunately very underrated. He's done a tremendous job.''
Lincecum insists he is thriving from the rush of hearing his name called to warm up and go into the game.
Bochy will tell it like it is, and Lincecum understood after a season of struggles. It was after the 2010 World Series when the skipper and Sabean publicly called out Sandoval, saying the switch-hitting third baseman had better get into top physical shape before spring training 2011 or risk starting the season in the minor leagues.
That got the Kung Fu Panda's attention, all right. It has worked out well.
``I think there needs to be a trust there. I think they need to know that you're behind them, and there's different ways to do it,'' Bochy said.
``Sometimes you're not going to agree. But as long as you do it in the right way and handle things right,'' he said, ``I think without question, I think it's something that's critical for the player and makes him a better player when he has trust from his manager and vice versa.''
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed.