SAN FRANCISCO — The tributes were so effusive and the ovations so long and loud, it was almost possible to forget a game had been played on this bittersweet Sunday, which considering the result was probably for the best.
After all, the Giants are going nowhere. And as we know, the man who managed them for the past 13 seasons, who helped lead them to three World Series victories, Bruce Bochy, is taking his leave, retiring.
Oracle Park, after so many empty seats this grim season, was overflowing with fans, a sellout crowd of 41,909, most of which stayed long after the Dodgers beat the Giants, 9-0, to sweep the three-game series that ended the season for San Francisco.
Overflowing with memories, as so many players from Barry Bonds to Tim Lincecum to Jake Peavy walked through the gate in centerfield to join those of the current team grouped around the pitcher’s mound.
Overflowing with shouts and chants, as the crowd repeated in unison, “Bochy, Bochy, Bochy.”
It was his last season in charge of a Giants team that was aging and losing, finishing with a 77-85 record, after dropping 24 of its last 38 games. Such a disappointment after all the triumphs, but Bochy, always the gentleman, never openly showed any anger.
He praised the opposition and worked to improve athletes who had their limitations.
He also understood the game and the emotion it involves.
We knew Bochy was done with the Giants. We don’t know whether Madison Bumgarner, who may not be re-signed, is also done. It was so like Bochy to send Bumgarner up in the fifth as a pinch hitter in what may be his ultimate appearance in a San Francisco uniform — and against Clayton Kershaw, no less.
The fans gave Mad Bum a standing ovation and he raised his batting helmet in acknowledgment, a tip of a protective cap, as it were.
Bumgarner would line out and walk to the dugout. Bochy, much later, would literally ride off into the sunset, sitting in a 1960s-era Oldsmobile convertible while the historic recording of Tony Bennett singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” played over the public address system.
“You brought so much love to this team,” Bochy told his players, present and past.
Pablo Sandoval, who recently underwent ligament surgery, was there. Barry Zito, who admitted in a new book he secretly rooted against the Giants when Bochy kept him off the 2010 World Series roster, was there.
Zito said he grew up in San Diego and watched Bochy when he was a catcher with the Padres. Eventually Bochy became the San Diego manager, and Giants CEO Larry Baer said the job done was so effective that San Francisco hired him.
Not a bad decision, was it?
Bochy struggled to fight back tears at times during the ceremonies. “You get a lot of thoughts going through your head,” he said.
Bochy’s family, including his wife, Kim, and their grandson, were on the field, along with such former Giants as Willie Mays, at age 88 looking and speaking well, Orlando Cepeda and the man who preceded Bochy as Giants manager, Felipe Alou.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who once played for Bochy, embraced him briefly after the pre-game meeting with the umpires.
Quickly enough the Dodgers, with their abundance of talent, grabbed a 5-0 first-inning lead. From that point it became apparent that for the Giants fans the focus would be the Bochy farewell, which was staged wonderfully with so many former players returning, including Lincecum, who hadn’t been back in years.
“He let us be ourselves,” Lincecum told Amy Gutierrez of NBC Bay Area. “We had a freedom in the clubhouse.”
Peavy, who pitched for Bochy with the Padres and Giants, said, “What Bruce taught me was to be accountable, to balance having fun and showing up on time. That’s what life’s all about, to be a professional.”
“With Bruce leaving, an era has died.”
Thoughts of Bochy’s character and style will survive. And what a poignant way to close his talk, quoting the memorable line from Lou Gehrig, to wit: “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”