Giants

How Bruce Bochy's managerial genius manifested in Giants' no-hitter bids

How Bruce Bochy's managerial genius manifested in Giants' no-hitter bids

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy will remember Rally Zito, and the 18-inning win, and the Travis Ishikawa walk-off.

He will remember those celebrations with his staff on the top step of the dugout, the champagne-drenched speeches that came soon after, and the parades down Market Street.

He will tell stories about Matt Cain's perfect game (which happened seven years ago Thursday), Tim Lincecum's two no-hitters on the downslope of his career, and the night when a rookie right-hander no-hit the Mets under the bright lights in New York.

The retiring Giants manager also will remember the ones that got away.

A career that should land Bochy in the Baseball Hall of Fame in five years isn't just memorable for the team accomplishments but for the individual ones, too. He proudly watched MVP campaigns, Cy Young seasons and multiple Gold Glove winners, and on five different occasions, he was in the dugout when his starting pitcher threw a no-hitter or a perfect game.

In 2007, Bochy came to San Francisco from the San Diego Padres, the only MLB team without a no-hitter. In those 13 years, no team has had more of them than the Giants.

But as Bochy recently started to reminisce about those historic games, he paused and turned the conversation elsewhere.

"The game I'll tell you about is Jake Peavy, right here in New York," Bochy said, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair at Citi Field. "That's one I'll never forget. I felt like I let Jake down. The one here, I'll never forget or forgive myself."

Bochy's regret lies with a decision he made in the seventh inning of a perfect-game attempt. The manager always has been proactive in trying to help his starter finish a bid for history, but on the second day of August 2014, he found himself in a unique spot.

Peavy was perfect through six, but Mets starter Jacob deGrom hadn’t allowed a hit, either. When left fielder Michael Morse grounded out to end the top of the seventh, Bochy thought about putting in Gregor Blanco to shore up the outfield defense for Peavy's run at history. Instead, Bochy decided to try for one more inning out of his powerful No. 5 hitter.

Daniel Murphy came up in the bottom of the inning and lined a ball to left. Morse initially broke in and to his right before going back on the ball, and by the time he tried to reach his glove up, it was too late. Murphy cruised into second with a double.

“I couldn't believe I didn't do it," Bochy said. "I thought about it, and sure enough, the ball was hit there, and the baseball gods punished me. That's what I'm always conscious of, to help the pitcher out. I gambled there, and it got me."

That has been a rarity for Bochy in a career during which he more often than not has pulled the right lever in big spots. Peavy did not get his perfect game, but Cain did, and three other pitchers threw no-hitters under Bochy. There aren't as many pitching decisions to make in those games, but the manager was no spectator.

If you look through the no-hitters and the many close calls, you'll find a pattern of moves made from the Giants’ dugout. Some worked, some didn't. All were designed with one thing in mind — to give the starting pitcher his best shot at etching his name in the history books.

"That's such a milestone," Bochy said. "It's such a big deal when a pitcher can throw a no-hitter. You look at the number of no-hitters that have been thrown and, of course, the perfect games, how few (23 in MLB history) there have been. It shows you how difficult that is and really how lucky you have to be.

"But you want to take as much luck out of it as possible."

Starter's mentality

Brandon Crawford has played in 38 playoff games, including two winner-take-all Wild Card Games and a World Series Game 7. In one sense, none of that compares to what the Giants shortstop felt when Ron Wotus told him to prepare to enter in the seventh inning of a blowout on June 13, 2012.

"The perfect game is the most nervous I've ever been, even more than in World Series games," Crawford said. "As a defensive replacement, you're there for one reason: to make the play. Basically the only thing you're there to do is not screw it up."

Crawford was 25 and still establishing himself in the big leagues when he entered behind Cain, pushing Joaquin Arias to third base and Pablo Sandoval to the bench. Crawford has won three Gold Gloves since and cemented his reputation as one of the best defensive players of the decade, so you’d think such an assignment wouldn't bother him at this point of his career.

But Crawford said he still might be that nervous if called upon to come off the bench and help protect a perfect game.

“It's so rare," he said. "That's kind of the thought process, that the pitcher has done such a good job that you don't want to mess it up."

There is no way to account for a bad hop or a bloop, but time and again, Bochy has tried to increase the pitcher's odds, even if it's just an incremental gain. Bochy's plan in those games is pretty simple. If the game is close, as it was with Peavy in New York, he might try to squeeze an extra at-bat out of his best hitters. But most of the historic games for Bochy's Giants have not been close through the middle innings, and he repeatedly has looked for an edge.

"Ultimately you're there to win the game, but you're also there to help the pitcher if he's got a legitimate chance to pitch a no-hitter," Bochy said. "That's kind of what you prepare for as you look down your bench. You ask, 'What is my best defense?' "

With Cain and the Giants leading the Houston Astros 10-0 on that June day seven years ago, Bochy replaced second baseman Ryan Theriot with the rangier Emmanuel Burriss. An inning later, Crawford took Sandoval's spot in the lineup.

Cain said he wasn't aware of the changes in the moment, but when he later looked back at the box score, he wasn't surprised.

"I was in my own spacey world out there with all that going on," the retired right-hander said. "Usually I notice if we've got certain guys in or out, but for some reason, I don't think it really registered. But you always know that that's what Boch does. I remember talking about it later on."

Cain paused as he recalled his best individual day on a big league mound.

"I'm glad we got Theriot out of there," he cracked.

Burriss did not touch the ball, but the other move ended up in the spotlight. J.D. Martinez opened the eighth with a slow broken-bat roller to third that Arias seamlessly handled. Crawford recorded the final out of the eighth on a grounder up the middle that took a quick hop on him. Cain's 125th pitch was a fastball up in the zone that Jason Castro punched the other way. Arias retreated on the ball but made a long throw to first for the 27th and final out.

"He backed up and had no momentum on the throw, but honestly it was one of the moves that saved the game, putting him there," said Wotus, the Giants’ bench coach through all those games. "When Arias retreated on the ball a little bit, you knew it was going to be a difficult play, but if he wasn't in there, I don't think the perfect game would be intact. No knock on Pablo, but just where that ball was hit, it was difficult."


Joaquin Arias was moved to third base in Matt Cain's perfect game on June 13, 2012, and made a big play on the final out (Photo by USA TODAY Sports Images)

For the staff, the run-up to these moments is just like the rest of the dugout interaction during a no-hitter. There's very little actual discussion.

"You kind of know, and Boch will say, 'Hey, we need to put defense in at third,' “ Wotus said. "But ... you do not discuss the no-hitter."

Little moves, big impact

The golden era of San Francisco Giants baseball won't just be remembered for the three World Series championships. Before that first title, the Giants used the marketing slogan "It's Magic Inside," and for a few years, that seemed to actually be the case with the clubhouse.

Cain's perfect game was followed by Lincecum's back-to-back no-hitters in 2013 and 2014. In between those two, little-known swingman Yusmeiro Petit came one out shy of a perfect game.

About a month after Lincecum's second no-no, Peavy, in his first road start with the Giants, took that perfect game into the seventh at Citi Field. He was a Cy Young winner and three-time All-Star in previous stops, but he’d never gone that deep into a game without allowing a hit. Just 28 days later, he lost a no-hit bid in the eighth.

Four days before that second Peavy attempt, Madison Bumgarner lost a perfect game in the eighth. Chris Heston no-hit the Mets the next season, and Bumgarner lost another perfect game in the eighth that September.

The next July, Bumgarner took a no-hitter into the eighth, and two months after that, Matt Moore lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium.

Nearly every one of those games included subtle mid-game changes by Bochy and his staff.

"Once you get through the sixth, you really start to think about it," Wotus said. "For me, it's a little more unnerving when you have a big lead. When it's a close game, you're doing your defense and doing everything to win the game. But now, with a big lead, you're doing everything for the no-hitter."

In Lincecum's first no-hitter, Andres Torres entered for Kensuke Tanaka in the bottom of the seventh, pushing Blanco from center to left and strengthening the outfield defense. For the sequel, Juan Perez pinch-ran for Morse in the sixth and stayed in as the left fielder.

Morse twice gave way to Ishikawa at first base in the seventh inning of 2014 bids. With Bumgarner closing in on a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks on 2016, Ruben Tejada replaced Conor Gillaspie at third. Later that season, Bochy made one of his more difficult moves, inserting Gorkys Hernandez in right field for Hunter Pence, who is one of Bochy's all-time favorite players but was dealing with a tight hamstring.

"That was a tougher one," Bochy said. "But Gorkys was really, really good in the outfield. It seems like that should be an easy one, but taking Hunter out, that was a little tough."

Pence watched with a hoodie on as Corey Seager's flare to right with two outs in the ninth dropped 10 feet in front of Hernandez, who had no shot on the play, and erased Moore's bid.

The same was true for Sandoval, another of Bochy's favorite players in his 13 years with the Giants. Sandoval was pulled in the seventh innings of Cain's perfect game and Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter, and taken out in the ninth when Petit got three outs from making history.

"I think they understand it," Bochy said of the players who are removed. "You have to be honest with them. I think they get it."

Sandoval said there are no hard feelings over missed opportunities. He credited Bochy for always being proactive about communicating the moves he might make that night, no matter the situation.

Bochy often will tell a position player to "give me a quality start," meaning six innings in the field and two or three good at-bats before he is replaced by a superior defender.

"I understand every move he makes because he helps me know the situation," Sandoval said. "He communicates with every player, but I know especially with me, and so I know the moves and the situation that he's going to put me in."

Sandoval smiled as he recalled Arias retreating on the final out of Cain's perfect game.

"I freaked out," he said, laughing. "But I knew in the seventh he was going to make that move with Arias. I know Bochy needs to do what he needs to do."

More often than not, the decisions are just a footnote in a box score that ends up in Cooperstown. They aren't remembered a decade later, and the same holds true for one of Bochy's best moves. It is not remembered because the bid was not completed.

With Petit perfect in 2013, Bochy inserted Perez, an outstanding defender, for Brett Pill, who shuttled back and forth between left and first base. Three batters later, Arizona Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin sliced a ball down the left field line, and Perez made a tremendous diving catch, getting Petit his 18th out.


Juan Perez's diving catch in left field kept Giants right-hander Yusmeiro Petit's 2013 perfect-game bid alive (Photo by USA TODAY Sports Images)

Petit ultimately fell one out short, but the Giants still made history during this stretch. With the Heston no-hitter in 2015, they became the second team in MLB history to throw a no-hitter in four consecutive seasons.

That run does not include the first for Bochy as a manager, Sanchez's no-hitter of the Padres on July 10, 2009. Bochy doesn't recall having any conversations with veteran managers before that on how to handle those games. He said it's something that comes with experience, and when Sanchez started piling up outs that night, Bochy went into action.

Andres Torres took over for John Bowker in left field. Kevin Frandsen replaced Sandoval in the top of the seventh, moving Juan Uribe to third, where he later made an error on a short-hop grounder. There was one other change that night, but it had nothing to do with Sanchez's bid.

In the bottom of the first, right fielder Randy Winn smacked a foul ball off his right foot and was replaced by Nate Schierholtz. Winn watched the innings sail by from the trainer's room, and at some point he realized what Sanchez was doing. He figured he should make his way back to the dugout for a better view, but for baseball players, superstition often is king, so Winn watched from a trainer's table as Sanchez recorded the 27th out.

"I didn't want to jinx him," Winn said.

Appeasing the baseball gods can become a key factor. Taking care of your starter's future can be another.

Heart against head

Six weeks after he no-hit the Mets, Heston opened a game at Petco Park with five no-hit innings on 69 pitches. After the rookie came up short, Bochy was asked if he would have let Heston take another shot at history even if the pitch count became too high. He started laughing.

"I let Timmy throw 148," Bochy said. "What do you think I would have done?"

Bochy has used that line a few times since 2013, when Lincecum carried an unimaginable workload while no-hitting the Padres.

Bochy always has been protective of his players, and he will pull a starter -- even one as durable as Bumgarner -- earlier than expected if he believes his pitcher is laboring or heading for a danger zone. Thus, the no-hit bids often turn into a battle of the heart against the mind.

Bochy is old school and knows how much the accomplishment means to a pitcher. But it was up to him and pitching coach Dave Righetti to make sure someone was looking out for the starter, too. Never has that conversation been more serious than when Lincecum worked through the Padres six years ago.

Lincecum had thrown a season-high 114 pitches through seven innings and 131 through eight. After each inning, he had a conversation with Righetti, who quietly relayed the findings to Bochy.

"Rags and I were talking about when should we get him, when we think he's had enough," Bochy said. "We were both looking at the delivery and also the stuff to see if there's any dramatic drop-off. That's when a red flag would go up. But Timmy was unique. Looking back, he threw two no-hitters and he's got that on his resume, and a couple of Cy Youngs. I was good with that."

The flag never has been raised high enough for Bochy to step foot on the field, but he has made sure to be ready behind the scenes.

The bullpen was humming from the sixth inning of Lincecum's first no-hitter. Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez were warming up at Citi Field as Heston chased his. Casilla already was warmed up and entered the game as soon as Moore's bid ended after 133 pitches.


Bruce Bochy (left) managed Giants ace Tim Lincecum through two no-hitters, in 2013 and 2014, both against the Padres (Photo by USA TODAY Sports Images)

Bochy never had to leave a pitcher to wonder what could have been, but a year after Heston's no-hitter, he was in the other dugout when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts infamously removed rookie Ross Stripling after 7 1/3 no-hit innings and 100 pitches.

“You look back at the Dodgers situation and you can't really knock them for that, but at the same time, just having the trust that your manager will let you be out there is huge," Heston said. "You're not numb to the fact that [pitch count] comes into play at some point, but knowing that Bochy has trust in his guy out there was a big confidence booster."

Bochy often is thinking about a pitcher's psyche as well as his arm, and he admitted it was helpful that so many recent bids came on the road. You cannot get a good view into the visiting bullpen at Dodger Stadium from the dugout, so Moore didn't have to look over his shoulder. Heston said he didn't notice two pitchers warming up because the bullpen at Citi Field is at a strange angle from the mound, so you can't see what's going on in there.

The layout soon might be the same at Oracle Park, but as Cain chased history, Bochy knew he couldn't send a reliever to the bullpen, even when Cain finished the eighth at 114 pitches. A right-hander looks directly at the home dugout and bullpen. Bochy did not want his ace to know there was any concern in the dugout.

"If you go get somebody up in the bullpen -- whether you want to say it's bad karma or you're sending a bad message -- I just don't want the pitcher to see that," Bochy said. "I hate to send a guy out there to warm up when a pitcher is throwing well. It's like you're sending a message to the pitcher that you think he's losing it."

Bochy didn't want Cain to see any hint of that. So, he got creative.

The ballpark shook as Cain worked his way through the ninth, and reliever Shane Loux could feel every vibration as he started to get loose in the batting cage behind the dugout. Bochy was committed to letting Cain go past 130 pitches if he needed, but he also knew that the second the pitcher gave up a hit, his night was over. Loux was sent into the cage to warm up in a spot where Cain couldn't see him.

"I didn't want any part of it," Loux later said. "But you could see what was going to happen. You play out every scenario in your head, so I was ready to throw."

Bochy had noted before how close the cage -- with no mound but similar dimensions to the bullpen -- was to the field, and on that night, he decided that's where Loux would get ready to take over if needed.

"That's probably being superstitious," Bochy said. "But really, in the moment, that's a place where Cain wouldn't see it."

Cain couldn't see Loux, but the veteran could see his fellow right-hander. Loux watched the ninth inning on a mounted TV in the cage between warm-up pitches.

"I was down under, and when he got to two outs, I just threw my glove down and went out to the dugout," Loux said.

Loux called the moment one of the highlights of his career, and he later took a photo with Cain and asked him to sign a ball. The flip side of that worked out exactly how Bochy intended.

"I didn't have any idea he was down there," Cain recently said. "I forgot about that."

No detail missed

Heston looked in at Buster Posey and took a deep breath, then fired a 91-mph sinker that caught the outside corner of the plate and gave the then-27-year-old the first no-hitter by a Giants rookie in 103 years.

The Buster Hug came first, and then Heston turned and met a long line of teammates and coaches ready with hugs and handshakes and a few playful shoves.

At the end of the line, Bochy stood and clapped, a smile on his face. He grabbed Heston by the shoulders and delivered a message the pitcher couldn't believe and hasn't forgotten.

"One thing that he did, and it meant the world to me, as we were walking off the field he said make sure you get your high school coach down here and into the clubhouse," Heston recalled.

Brad Thomsen had coached Heston since he was a short infielder in Bay West Little League in Palm Bay, Fla., and later in high school. Thomsen grew up in New York, so with the Giants on the East Coast, he took the opportunity to watch Heston in the big leagues for the first time.

Heston was allowed to bring his old coach into the clubhouse at Citi Field, where he watched the Giants toast the young right-hander's accomplishments.

How on earth could Bochy have known that Thomsen was there, watching his former star from seats along the third-base dugout?

"I don't really know," Heston said, laughing. "But that was one of the first things he said to me, and that meant the world to me, to let an outsider into the clubhouse."

Heston thought about it for a moment and surmised that maybe Thomsen had called Bochy over during batting practice and introduced himself. Perhaps someone else told Bochy that a special guest was at the ballpark.

Or perhaps it's just because that's what Bochy does.

"It's crazy, but that's always the one thing I tell people when they ask me how it was playing for Boch -- it's just how much he knows," Heston said. "He's constantly thinking about his next move. It's cliché to say it, but a lot of people are playing checkers, and he's playing chess."

How Giants' improved minor-league system affects trade deadline decisions

How Giants' improved minor-league system affects trade deadline decisions

SAN FRANCISCO -- The biggest question for the Giants -- buy or sell -- wasn't even a question a month ago, or just about every day since Farhan Zaidi took over in November. 

The organization was in a world of hurt at all levels, and for about eight months, much of the talk at Oracle Park centered around how to make this team competitive in 2020 and good by 2021. But a couple of funny things happened along the way to the Great July Sale of 2019. 

The first one is obvious, and has been in front of your face for three weeks. The Giants are suddenly good. After sweeping the Rockies and taking three of four from the Mets, they're entering this week at .500, 2 1/2 games out in the Wild Card race. 

But the second factor is one you might have missed unless you really go deep with your fandom. Seemingly just as quickly, the Giants have built a farm system that looks respectable, and that will matter as Zaidi and Co. put together a deadline plan.

The Giants still need plenty of future help, but they're not quite as desperate as they were on Opening Day. Zaidi no longer should move anything that's not nailed down in order to bolster the system. Much of the next core already appears to be on the way. 

Joey Bart (ranked 19th) and Heliot Ramos (68) were joined by shortstop Marco Luciano (71) and outfielder Hunter Bishop (98) on Baseball America's most recent top 100 list, giving the Giants four top prospects on a rankings list that often has included just one player from the organization. 

Luciano, in particular, has changed the upside of the farm system. Just 17 years old, he's hitting .344 in rookie ball with eight homers in 96 at-bats. It's early, but if his development continues he could be a franchise-altering prospect, and he's part of a crowd coming from rookie ball and Salem-Keizer. The strength of this system is at the lower levels. 

The  Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, a short-season team, won the Northwest League's first-half title for the first time by going 25-12. Bishop, this year's first-rounder, is there already, along with other intriguing prospects like 21-year-old Franklin Labour (14 homers in 33 games) and 19-year-old Alexander Canario (eight homers in 27 minor league games this summer). 

Bart and Ramos lead a San Jose team that has some pitching starting to emerge with Sean Hjelle, Jake Wong and others. The Double-A roster is a bit barren, but Triple-A Sacramento -- a disaster in recent years -- is in first place and already has sent Shaun Anderson, Tyler Beede, Mike Yastrzemski, Conner Menez, Zach Green and others to the big league roster. 

If you take a step back, this is a farm system that's looking like a normal one again, and that certainly should change the math for Zaidi. 

For most of this season it seemed he needed to trade not just Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith and Sam Dyson, but also guys like Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Pillar and Reyes Moronta. When Zaidi traded Tom Murphy for a 20-year-old lottery ticket, that seemed like a good template, because the Giants came into this season needing as much minor league inventory as they could get. Things have changed quickly, and the system's rise has matched the big league club's surge.

[RELATED: Predicting landing spots for top players at MLB trade deadline]

There certainly are still plenty of holes. The Giants need more young pitching (who is the future ace of this staff?), could use an outfielder or three much closer to the big league level and have a huge hole when it comes to middle infield prospects. 

But this front office has proven fully capable of finding contributors -- Alex Dickerson, Donovan Solano, etc. -- and pushing younger players, and it turns out the previous regime left the cupboard a bit fuller than we thought. Add it up and the Giants aren't nearly as desperate at the deadline as they once were. 

MLB rumors: Ten teams have talked with Giants about Will Smtih trade

MLB rumors: Ten teams have talked with Giants about Will Smtih trade

Madison Bumgarner might be the Giants' biggest trade deadline chip, but it sounds like San Francisco's other nasty left-hander has garnered the most interest.

With playoff baseball being all about the bullpens, contenders are looking to stock up on dominant relief arms at the trade deadline in order to buoy their hopes of winning the World Series.

There might not be a better reliever on the market than All-Star closer Will Smith, and at least 10 teams reportedly have called the Giants to check in on his availability, The Athletic's Jim Bowden reported Monday. 

Smith, who has saved 24 of 26 games and has a 2.55 ERA with a 0.921 WHIP, has drawn interest from the Braves, Red Sox, Nationals, Phillies, Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, Dodgers, Astros and Twins, according to Bowden.

Now, the extent of the talks is unknown, especially as the Giants continue to win and move up the NL wild-card standings. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told reporters Sunday that he will always listen to trade offers, but it certainly sounded like the Giants had pulled back in their attempts to move Smith, Bumgarner and the like.

[RELATED: MLB trade deadline predictions: Landing spots for biggest names amid rumors]

That could change this week.

A losing stretch against the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres likely would send the Giants firmly back into the sellers category and have teams burning up Zaidi's phone in hopes of landing a deal for Smith. 

If 10 teams seriously have called to construct a deal for Smith, though, chances are the hard-throwing lefty won't be a Giant for much longer.