San Francisco Giants fans who have spent Bruce Bochy's entire tenure as manager calling him names and blaming him for much of what troubles the club have to step back now.
The Giants rallied from a 5-1 deficit to beat the Dodgers, in Los Angeles, 7-5 on Tuesday night. Bochy deserves credit for putting a club that has done everything right since the All-Star break in position to come back, then win.
No, Bochy didn't win the game when he noticed acting manager Don Mattingly had left the mound and returned in the ninth inning.
Mattingly talked to Broxton, then step off the dirt portion of the mound. He spun around quickly and stepped back onto the dirt to say something else. The latter move constituted a second visit in the same inning and forced the Dodgers to yank Broxton.
Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton was, actually, in the middle of another meltdown. His once blazing heater was barely scraping 91 mph. The right-hander couldn't find the strike zone and the top of the Giants order was due up. The argument could've been made at the moment that Mattingly caught a break by being forced to replace his struggling closer with lefty George Sherrill.
The decision that put the Giants in position to win late came when Bochy removed Tim Lincecum from the game in the fifth inning, trailing 5-1. Lincecum had only thrown 80 pitches. He hadn't thrown well, but was in position where Bochy could easily have let him struggle through the fifth and into the sixth in one of the outings intended only to save the bullpen.
Actually, if Bochy had stuck with Lincecum, he would've done it to keep from having to go to a group of embattled middle-inning relievers. Few would've criticized Bochy for letting Lincecum try to finish the fifth, but the manager went to Denny Bautista. Despite all the histrionics and his inability to throw the ball where he wants more than a couple times in a row, Bautista held the Dodgers scoreless for 1 1/3 innings.
Lincecum was getting hit—hard. Bochy realized that and made the right move. If Bautista and the troubled relievers are going to turn things around, they have to have chances to do so when big games are on the line.
There aren't many bigger games than the red-hot Giants against a Dodgers team that had lost five games in a row. A big fifth inning for the Dodgers and the game's over. Instead, Bautista ended things quickly.
The result of Bochy doing what had to be done was a three-run Giants uprising in the top of the sixth to make a game of it.
No. No. The Giants bats didn't come alive because Bautista pitched out of a jam. Clayton Kershaw started to run out of gas and a group of hitters who've hit well in the last six games came back on him (the Giants didn't win because they wanted it more or because they were more focused either. They got hits, made pitches and played defense).
Credit Bochy, too, for whatever he said to Santiago Casilla on the shortest mound visit in San Francisco Giants history in the seventh inning. It's a mistake to think that Bochy's not tough on his players simply because he's not up screaming like a loon all the time. He likely suggested that there was a bus ticket to Fresno waiting for Casilla if he couldn't throw strikes—immediately. Casilla responded and ended the inning.
It was a throwback Giants-Dodgers game, by the way. There's lots of talk about the rivalry, but it's long been a one-way deal. San Francisco area fans despise the Dodgers. But, Dodgers fans haven't wasted much energy hating on the Giants for years. That changed on Tuesday night.
Lincecum wasn't trying to hit Matt Kemp. Heck, the righty was so out of whack that he lost the grip on a curveball that slipped out of his hand and straight into the air. Still, Dodgers fans are sure Lincecum was trying to plunk Kemp.
Then, Bautista came in and had no idea where his fastball was going. But, welcome to the spotlight, um, Don Shaffer!
Shaffer was ejected for griping about a Bautista pitch that brushed Russell Martin back. Shaffer, who is the most unheralded bench coach in baseball, now has a claim to fame. He fanned the flames of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry (even the umpiring crew was baffled by Shaffer's outburst. The umps, obviously, had seen Bautista at work in the past).
Then, in the ninth, Bochy called Mattingly on the incredibly obscure rule regarding what constitutes a visit to the mound. Whether Broxton was in the process of imploding or not -- Dodgers fans and Mattingly himself were clearly upset with Bochy for pointing out that the Dodgers' acting chief did leave the mound and return to the mound.
Hey, if it's in the rule book it must be enforced. That, of course, doesn't explain why rookie home plate umpire Adrian Johnson clearly jogged out to tell Mattingly that he wasn't supposed to leave the mound and then return. Johnson was going to do Mattingly a solid—give him a heads-up. Bochy insisted they enforce the rule.
Credit the umpires, the guys who've just trashed the Giants the last couple of games, for making the call. You think anybody watching the game knew the rule so well that they'd have felt wronged if Broxton had been allowed to stay in the game?
By the bottom of the ninth inning, fans in Dodger Stadium were chanting, "Giants suck! Giants suck!" They've probably chanted it before, but...not very often. That type venom is reserved in L.A. for the St. Louis Cardinals and teams that have haunted the Dodgers lately.
For Giants fans who really haven't lived through the real Dodgers rivalry, didn't Jeremy Affeldt's return to 2009 form taste that much sweeter when it quieted the L.A. crowd?
The rivalry will continue heating up tonight because the Dodgers have lost six straight and spit Tuesday's game away. The Giants are sending Barry Zito to the mound and he's aware that, at some point, the issue of Kershaw purposely hitting Aaron Rowand will need to be addressed.
Who'd have expected this?
The Giants-Dodgers is suddenly a powder keg that could blow tonight and Bochy's in line for a great deal of credit after the type of victory that San Francisco fans might be recalling fondly in October.
Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. Reach Ted at email@example.com