ATLANTA -- In the bottom of the ninth inning last Wednesday, the Giants got a walk and a single off then-Pirates closer Felipe Vasquez, inviting their fans back into the game as they tried for an unlikely comeback. As those remaining stood and cheered, Madison Bumgarner emerged on the top step of the dugout and stood to Bruce Bochy's right.
Bochy turned to Bumgarner and had a quick conversation, and then both men focused their attention back to the field. As Austin Slater walked up for a pinch-hit appearance, the two spoke again. Bumgarner stood next to Bochy, a hoodie on, throughout the ninth, ending the conversation only a few seconds before the rally fell short.
Part of the discussion was exactly what you might imagine.
"It was, 'Listen, this guy throws really hard and has great stuff ... but you know I'm a great matchup for him,'" Bochy recalled, smiling.
Bumgarner actually might have been as good a matchup as Bochy had for Vasquez. He once drew a walk off Aroldis Chapman, another lefty closer with similar stuff, and this season has two walks in two pinch-hit plate appearances. But most of the conversation wasn't about giving Bumgarner a shot. The two discussed Bochy's pinch-hit options, and as he has done often over the years, Bochy used his ace's advice as part of his decision-making process.
Bumgarner is famous in the clubhouse for the way he can read swings during a game. While his process has changed a bit over the years, he's still pretty old-school for the most part, watching where a hitter sets up in the box, the way he places his hands, and how he approaches different pitches. That has instructed the majority of Bumgarner's game planning over the years, and Bochy has taken advantage.
"He's got a good feel for the game, he really does," Bochy said. "He watches the game and studies the game. He has a great feel. There's been a couple of times this year when he gets by me and we're talking strategy or a move or possibly who to use as a pinch-hitter. A couple of times I've used his advice. It's great because if it doesn't work, I can get on him."
Bochy used Bumgarner with Vasquez on the mound, asking him which right-handers on the bench he felt were the best matchup. It's a process that Bumgarner said started later in his career. He was curious to know what Bochy was thinking during games he wasn't starting.
"I'd seen a lot of moves he made early in my career and they always seemed to work," Bumgarner said. "Granted, you've got to have the players to do that, too, but when I got comfortable enough with him and he made a move, I would ask him about it. If I was thinking something else or I was thinking the same thing, I would just ask him how he decided to do what he did. He would walk me through it and it helped me learn a lot about this game, also."
Asked how often he feels his advice has pushed Bochy in a new direction, Bumgarner paused for a moment and then frowned.
"You know, it has, but I'm pretty sure it's whenever I say whatever he's already thinking," Bumgarner said. "A lot of times he'll ask me what I would do here, but most of the time he does the same thing that I say. But I think the only reason for that is that's what he was going to do anyway."
Coach Bumgarner has been a resource for Bochy, and the manager thought Bumgarner would be "great at it" if he ever wanted to coach or manage. "You look at how he prepares for his games, reads hitters -- he can assimilate information very well," Bochy said. Don't hold your breath waiting for Bumgarner on the top step, though. A large part of Bochy's job is briefing the media every day, and there's no chance Bumgarner would sign up for that gig.
Instead, he'll enjoy his final week as an extra set of eyes for Bochy, trying to find an edge even on days when he's not starting. Bochy cherishes the interaction, in part because he knows what's usually coming at some point. He laughed when asked what kind of advice Bumgarner gave him as they went over options against Vasquez.
"He said, 'I think you might want me to pinch-hit here,'" Bochy said.