Bruce Bochy

Bochy makes anticipated Oracle Park return for Giants-Rangers series

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Seventeen years ago, the Giants took Bruce Bochy on a tour of the city that ended up changing the course of the entire franchise.

Bochy was still under contract with the San Diego Padres at the time and had won the division back-to-back years, but after a second straight early exit in October, he was informed that there was no extension coming before the final year of his deal. The Padres gave him permission to look around, and after briefly talking to the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals, Bochy reached a deal with president of baseball operations Brian Sabean and the Giants. 

The team proceeded to go 71-91 and finish last in the NL West. Bochy learned a valuable lesson.

"I knew they were getting older, but I didn't know until I got there as the season started, that we were really old," he said earlier this summer. "We were an old bunch. But Sabes and I talked and we knew we needed to get a little pitcher-centric in our division. That would be the way to go."

A franchise centered nearly entirely around Barry Bonds would soon feature the best young pitching staff in baseball, with Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner forming an imposing trio and Buster Posey joining the mix in Bochy's fourth season in orange and black. A parade followed, and then another, and then a third.

The run of three World Series titles in five years will one day put Bochy in the Hall of Fame, and when he announced early in 2019 that he would be stepping aside at the end of that season, much of the ensuing talk was about when he might be enshrined in Cooperstown. But Bochy knew in his heart that the day would come later than most might have expected.

That season was billed as a retirement tour, but Bochy never intended to retire. He has long believed that 10 years is about the limit for a manager in one spot, and his spring training announcement allowed new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi to have a clean runway as he looked for a long-term partner in the manager's office. 

Bochy's exit was neat, and he soon moved to Nashville to be closer to his grandchildren. There was plenty of golf and fishing over the next couple of years, but Bochy always kept an eye on the game, and last offseason he found the perfect spot for one last ride on the top step of the dugout. 

Bochy returns to Oracle Park on Monday night as manager of the Texas Rangers, who have the third-best record in baseball and lead the AL West by 2 1/2 games. Nearly two decades after Sabean and Bochy pivoted to pitching in an effort to win the NL West, the longtime Giants manager returns with the best offense in baseball. That's a humorous twist for a man who loves nothing more than a good three-run homer, but spent most of his time in San Francisco trying to coax the Giants through the late innings of one-run games.

The Rangers lead the majors in runs and rank second in wRC+ and slugging percentage. Their position players have combined for the highest Wins Above Replacement in baseball, with Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Adolis Garcia already past the four-WAR mark. Garcia leads the AL in RBI and Seager leads all of baseball in wRC+. 

When Bochy stepped away, the early speculation had him ending up back in San Diego at some point, with the two New York teams also rumored as potential options. But in Arlington, Bochy has found a perfect match. 

Earlier this week, as he sat in the visiting dugout across the Bay, Bochy said he enjoyed his three years away but called this season "a real blessing to me." He is reinvigorated and so are the Rangers, who are drawing 6,000 more fans per night than they did a year ago.

"They've been great and they've been excited about the team, as they should be," Bochy told reporters in Oakland. "This is a fun team to watch and they have really treated me very, very well. It's been a nice transition."

The Rangers made it a relatively easy one. They added Seager and Semien to the heart of the lineup before last season and then bolstered the pitching staff as they were wooing Bochy. At the deadline, the Rangers added Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery, although the Giants won't see either this weekend. 

Back in a dugout, Bochy has worked his usual magic. When some of his younger relievers struggled in April, he turned to another former Giant, Will Smith, who has 21 saves. Rangers general manager Chris Young, the man who flew to Nashville to convince Bochy to return, gave him another weapon by trading for Aroldis Chapman, the hard-throwing lefty who once watched Bochy send Madison Bumgarner up to pinch-hit against him.

Bumgarner never reunited with Bochy after getting let go in Arizona, but the Rangers will arrive with other familiar faces. Donnie Ecker, who helped several veteran Giants hitters reach new heights in 2021, is Bochy's bench coach and offensive coordinator in Texas. Given the Rangers' success at the plate, the odds seem good that he will soon become the first member of Gabe Kapler's coaching tree to become a manager. The Rangers bullpen has Smith at the back end and includes former Giants first-rounder Chris Stratton. 

In the home dugout, just about everything has changed since Bochy said goodbye. Brandon Crawford, Logan Webb, Mike Yastrzemski, Austin Slater and Tyler Rogers are the only players remaining from the 2019 team

While Webb will start Sunday, the first game will display one of the biggest shifts in philosophy under this new regime. Scott Alexander will be the opener for the Giants and go up against Jon Gray, one of four current Rangers starters who has made at least 20 starts this season. 

Both franchises have undergone massive changes in the last four years, but there are two things that will look very familiar on Friday night. Bochy is back in the dugout and Crawford is still the shortstop at Oracle Park, where he won three Gold Gloves while playing for Bochy. On Wednesday in Anaheim, he told reporters he's hopeful the long-awaited series can provide a jolt for a Giants team that has struggled in the second half. 

"I'll be excited to see Boch, for sure, and the recognition that he'll get from the fans and everybody there, so that'll be fun," Crawford said. "Just looking on the bright side, we've played well against good teams this year, so we can hopefully turn it around and get back home and start winning again."

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