ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Bruce Bochy was home the past three Octobers, doing a little fishing and hitting a few golf balls after stepping away from a 25-year managerial career that included three World Series championships.
As enjoyable and relaxing as that all was, he found himself missing more and more where he preferred to be this time of the year.
Bochy is back in the dugout for the postseason in his first season with the Texas Rangers, whose general manager is one of his former pitchers who lured him out of his brief retirement.
“I’m having the time of my life,” said the 68-year-old Bochy, who is going to his first American League Championship Series.
The Rangers were mired in a string of six consecutive losing seasons. With Bochy in charge, they went 90-72 before sweeping the first two rounds in these playoffs against the AL’s winningest teams this year — Tampa Bay in the Wild Card Series, then Baltimore in the Division Series.
“You look at a man like Boch that’s done it all in this game, that’s been there, done that,” outfielder-designated hitter Robbie Grossman said. “From Day 1 in spring training the belief was there. He’s led us the whole way.”
Next up are the Houston Astros, who eliminated Minnesota with a 3-2 win Wednesday night. Game 1 of the ALCS is Sunday in Houston.
“Hey, now me and Bruce Bochy need to battle,” said 74-year-old Astros manager Dusty Baker. “I know Bruce and he knows me.”
Bochy is the seventh manager to take three different franchises to a League Championship Series, and will try to become the first to win them with three different teams. He led the San Diego Padres to their last World Series in 1998, and won his three titles with the San Francisco Giants in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — the first of those wrapped up with a Game 5 win over the Rangers in their old stadium across the street from where they play now.
His 49 postseason victories are fifth on the career list, part of a .598 winning percentage in his nine trips to the playoffs. Bochy is 2,093-2,101 (.499) in regular-season games over 26 seasons, ranking 10th for wins. The only active manager with more postseason and regular-season wins is Baker, whose Astros became the AL West champion on a head-to-head tiebreaker after both teams won 90 games this season.
“He was a great manager in 2006 when I played for him, but the game has changed immensely since then,” Rangers GM Chris Young said. “He managed through ‘19 and got to evolve then too. But to see him just step right in and be able to handle this, rules have changed since then, there’s a lot that’s changed in that time period. He’s a great manager because he’s continued to grow and evolve and be open-minded.”
There were no three-batter minimums for pitchers or pitch clocks the last time Bochy managed in the playoffs, when he had a knack for matching up certain pitchers against specific hitters. But he still has plenty of opportunities to go with his hunch. Take Game 2 of the ALDS against Baltimore when Bochy inserted Mitch Garver into the third spot in the batting order — and he hit a grand slam.
The Rangers were on a 108-win pace in early June, even after two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom had season-ending elbow surgery. They had five All-Star starters, but then all but one of them spent time on the injured list after the midsummer break. Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who was acquired at the trade deadline, hasn’t pitched since mid-September because of a muscle strain in his shoulder.
When the Rangers lost at Seattle on the last day of the regular season, that made them a wild-card team that had to fly across the country — and over North Texas in the process — for their first four playoff games on the East Coast. They finally had a home playoff game Tuesday night, and wrapped up the ALDS with a 7-1 win.
“It’s been a little bumpy, the ups and downs, but it’s been a great ride,” Bochy said. “You have to savor it, enjoy these rides, appreciate them.”
Rookie third baseman Josh Jung, one of the All-Star starters, said Bochy instills confidence in his players and let’s them play their game without micromanaging them.
“Even when we had our scuffles, even when things weren’t going our way, or even my way, per se, he just keeps throwing you back out there. … That gives you confidence as a player,” Jung said.
“No matter the ups or the downs, he’s going to have a cool head and keep his composure,” All-Star catcher Jonah Heim said. “You look at the end of the dugout and you see him and he’s got the steady nature of him. There’s just never any panic and you always feels like you’re at ease and he has complete faith in you.”
Just like Young did in Bochy when he called his former manager and then went to Nashville last October to share his vision for the Rangers that is already coming into view with Bochy in the dugout.
“I’m blessed,” Bochy said. “I’m grateful CY gave me a call.”
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb