A closer look: Giants' committee thriving in ninth
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h more than 1,450 managerial victories and counting, Bruce Bochy has been fortunate to have go-to closers sew up almost half of those wins, with Trevor Hoffman amassing hundreds of saves when he was with the Padres and Brian Wilson posting 35-plus each of the previous four seasons with the Giants.
In 2012, and especially the last two months of the season, Bochy hasn't had a go-to guy in the ninth. Instead, he has had several.
For Bochy, in his 18th year as a Major League manager, it has been a new experience.
"It has been a lot different, to be honest," Bochy said last week as the Giants began their preparations for the postseason. "When you have a closer where you know he is your guy in the ninth inning, that's an inning you don't think about who you are going to put in. But this year is different, because we put two or three guys in that inning."
Whatever it has taken to get it done, the Giants' relievers have done down the stretch. The result: A National League West title and another shot at the World Series for the 2010 champs.
This time, it just took more of a team effort in the ninth to get there.
With Wilson lost for the season in April, the Giants had right-hander Santiago Casilla filling the closer role for most of the first half, but they began spotting several others in the ninth as Casilla struggled to four blown saves in July. As the Giants headed for the stretch run, it became apparent to Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti that a group approach was going to have to do the trick. They gathered the bullpen together before a game in St. Louis the first week of August to set forth the plan going forward.
Veteran left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, part of the relief corps that has been largely intact since 2010, has seen closer-by-committee before and knows the success rate is suspect at best.
"It's not the most conventional way to do it, and I wouldn't necessarily say it's the right way to do it all the time, but it's worked out great," Affeldt said.
With this group, it seems a perfect fit. Collectively, the committee is 17 of 19 in save opportunities over the last two months, with Sergio Romo pacing the group with a perfect 8-for-8 mark and Javier Lopez (six saves) and Affeldt (one) doing the job from the left side. Right-hander Clay Hensley added one save and Casilla claimed another just this past weekend to give him a team-leading 25 on the year.
"Everybody's been on board with it since the meeting in St. Louis," Affeldt said. "They said, 'This is what we're going to do,' and we just all said, 'OK, let's go.'"
That, of course, has been the key. If these veteran relievers, who as a group had provided such stalwart setup for Wilson in the ninth over the last couple of years, didn't buy into the program, the Giants would be in a very different position. Or, perhaps, they might have taken a flier on an August waiver trade for a closer.
Instead, Bochy saw exactly what he thought he would see out of this crew.
"We have had a great group here to work with, both lefties and righties, guys who have really done a good job of doing whatever they can to help win the game, setting their own agenda aside and not caring who gets a save," said Bochy, who has seen Hoffman register 457 saves for him and Wilson 170. "They're all doing their job and their role, and it has worked. These guys have done what's best for the club."
For Romo, that's just how the Giants roll, from the relief corps all the way through the rest of the clubhouse.
"There isn't a selfish bone in this body, on anybody on this team," said Romo, who's 13 of 14 in save situations.
The relief corps has been able to demonstrate that most forcefully with its team effort in the late innings.
"I'm very proud to be part of this bullpen, first and foremost," Romo said. "We're well-armed, and we've shown that throughout the season. To lose a guy like Wilson, it's not to try to replace him, it's just to try to do what you can to get the job done. It's not that we're asked to do anything extra or anything more -- we're still asked to get outs. It just happens to be a different inning or a different scenario."
And there are times when the scenario changes -- particularly lately, Lopez might start the ninth against a left-hander and give way to Romo, or that scenario could flip. With this group, the Giants feel comfortable playing to late-inning left-right matchups, even in the ninth.
That could be particularly helpful in the postseason, when those matchups often become game-altering and perhaps series-altering at-bats.
"There isn't a guy in this bullpen that can't handle any situation in any part of the game, and we feel that way personally about every single one of us. The confidence within each other is there," Romo said.
So when it comes to closing the door in tight games as the Giants head into the postseason, Bochy has an arsenal at his disposal, and he's well-versed in knowing which weapons to use at what time.
"I am fortunate that I have had four or five guys who are comfortable pitching out there late in the ballgame, and that is another reason it has worked, because we have had guys who have set up for a while and have that experience to draw on," Bochy said.
The end result is he doesn't have just one go-to guy for the ninth this time around, but several.
"It has been a lot different, but it has been fun," Bochy said.