Here is a link to my Friday column about the core of the Giants bullpen. The full text runs below:
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The constant in the Giants’ greatness is the bullpen.
OK, call it one of the constants. Bruce Bochy is constant and Brian Sabean is constant and Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are constants and there are others. But the bullpen, the core of the bullpen, has remained constant and illustrious for three world championships. The bullpen constant includes four pitchers who deserve a roll call: Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez.
The other day I asked Affeldt about the Giants’ pen, Affeldt at his locker after a workout, Affeldt always ready to talk, to explain, to help.
“There are four guys there that have been the backbone for a while,” he said. “I do think that’s part of what makes us good in the season and the postseason. We’re not the sexy bullpen. We don’t throw 100 mph, but we get the job done. I don’t care if I strike 100 guys out. An out’s an out.”
“Does the bullpen think of itself as a team within the larger team?” I asked.
“Every team has little groups,” Affeldt said. “You have the starters. You have the relievers. You have the position players, the infielder and outfielder scenarios. We have our group. We’re not necessarily going to be hanging out with each other off the field, but when we get to the ballpark, when we put the uniform on, we become a band of brothers.
“We protect each other. We have an understanding. We’re very honest with each other. Someone will say, ‘While you were warming up I saw this.’ Or ‘When you go out there think this way.’ Gardy (pitching coach Mark Gardner) is really good with us, but we kind of coach ourselves, too.
“When we have an issue, we ask each other, ‘What are you seeing?’ We’re encouraging. If you don’t have it that day, we know which one of us is probably going to be up shortly, and we take a lot of pride in getting each other out of jams. That’s very important.
“I just think we have a comfort feel in the bullpen. We’re all familiar with each other. There’s not a lot of awkwardness. This is almost like going home every day. You go out to the bullpen, you see the same guys. It’s a good feeling. We understand how each other thinks.”
I asked if Affeldt is proud of his group?
“Yeah, you’re throwing ‘dynasty’ around. If you look at the four guys in the bullpen, we’ve been there for all three of them (World Series). We try to stay humble. I understand that. We should. But if you were to take a step back — and I did this offseason think about what I’ve been a part of with three other guys — that’s awesome. You saw that a lot of times in the ’90s with the Yankees when they had the core down there. You’re thinking that doesn’t come along very often because it doesn’t. I was a part of something like that.”
“Does each of the relievers have a different role?” I asked. “One might be the wise old man, another might be the question asker.”
“Javi, he’s the psychologist. He went to school for it. The mental side of the game he’s really good at. He’ll throw little one-liners out. He says, ‘Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.’ He means if you want to be quicker to home, you’ve got to be smoother. You want to be smoother, you’ve got to slow it down. Don’t try to rush.
“I like to tell stories of past experiences, especially to guys who are struggling. ‘I’ve been there. Let me tell you a story of what happened to me one time. You’ll come out of it. The sun comes up the next day.’ It calms guys down.”
During the game where do the relievers sit?
“Home or away?” Affeldt asked.
Quick timeout. AT&T Park is perfect. Except for one thing. When they built the place, they left out bullpen seating. Think of the Oakland Coliseum, which is the norm. Relievers sit in the outfield away from the position players. The relievers inhabit their own world. Not in San Francisco. They sit in the dugout with the others. When I asked Affeldt where the relievers sit, it was a loaded question.
“Man, I’m on the railing the first three innings,” Affeldt said. “Then I go sit underneath and get stretched.”
“Underneath” is a nether world. You walk down the steps from the dugout to an area below ground level. In the area is a room. It is “underneath.” Underneath is where the relievers live in AT&T.
“We don’t have a bullpen,” Affeldt said, “so we sit underneath at times to stay warm. It’s like a little cave. It’s where we stretch and warm up. We keep an eye on the game.”
“So, a lot of the time you’re not in the dugout,” I said. “You’re in the cave.”
“It’s your cave. It’s the cave of the relievers.”
“Yes. Sometimes, the position players come in there and we kick them out. We don’t have a bullpen. We created one. When you’re a visitor coming into AT&T, it’s a weird adjustment. You don’t understand what you’re supposed to be doing. I have an old-school mentality. I value a bullpen. I like to have our own area.
“We’re not like everyone else. We like to mess around. The first few innings, we’re telling stories, laughing, having fun. I’m lighthearted until the fifth inning and then, obviously, I try to lock it in.
“You’re in a dugout where guys are competing. Position players get mad at their at bats or excited, and we’re out there doing jokes. It’s a bad environment to tell a joke in during a certain time of the game. That’s usually where Rags (pitching coach Dave Righetti) is kicking me out, saying I’m messing around too much.”
“That’s when you go to the cave,” I said. “It’s like Righetti is saying ‘Go to your room.’ ”
“Go to your room, yeah. And then the phone’s ringing or Bochy’s yelling down into the cave or someone’s yelling to get up and get warmed up.”
I asked what happens if Affeldt doesn’t get into the game.
Affeldt smiled. “If we’re winning,” he said, “and I haven’t pitched, the ninth inning that’s Casilla’s job. So, I just go out and watch him pitch.”
He’s allowed out of the cave for that.
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