SAN FRANCISCO — Minus his old signature toothpick, Cincinnati’s Dusty Baker leaned against the batting cage intently watching his players just as he did for a decade managing the Giants.
Dusty Baker is back in the Bay Area for the playoffs, 10 years after he came so close to winning a World Series with San Francisco.
‘‘Well, I really don’t have much choice,’’ Baker said when asked if it’s a strange coincidence. ‘‘I feel comfortable here. I think my team likes coming here. This is a good town.’’
Sometimes Baker still feels the sting of that World Series near-miss, even now, two managerial stops removed from his first career gig as a skipper in the place he has long called home.
On Saturday, he figures to be cheered by 40,000-plus fans at AT&T Park who still love him — ‘‘some of ’em,’’ he quipped — when the NL Central champion Reds open their best-of-five Division Series against the Giants, who like Cincinnati clinched early and had plenty of time to get everything situated and lined up for the postseason.
‘‘I'll be honest, I like this clinching early thing,’’ said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose 2010 World Series championship team clinched in Game 162.
These days, the 63-year-old Baker is conserving energy after a recent 11-game absence forced by a mini-stroke and irregular heartbeat.
He just rejoined the Reds on Monday in St. Louis. Baker was away for the NL Central clincher, and Homer Bailey’s no-hitter at Pittsburgh Sept. 28.
He’s ready to go now — with no plans to change a thing about the way he operates during a game on the playoff stage.
‘‘I'm feeling like a grateful man,’’ Baker said from his spot at the cage on a sunny fall afternoon in the Giants’ waterfront ballpark.
Cincinnati’s 19-game winner Johnny Cueto takes the ball in Game 1.
Matt Cain (16-5) pitches the opener for the Giants with plenty of postseason cred to fall back on: The three-time All-Star didn’t surrender an earned run during his team’s improbable title run two years ago.
He went 2-0 in three starts and 21⅓ innings, struck out 13, and walked seven.
Cain won his final six regular-season decisions and struck out 193 batters in 219⅓ inning this season.
The righthander hasn’t lost in 10 starts since Aug. 6 at St. Louis.
He earned himself a new $127.5 million, six-year contract before the season as he'd so hoped, then backed that up by tossing the first perfect game in franchise history June 13 against the Astros.
The Barry Bonds-led Giants fell six outs short of a World Series title in Game 6 against the wild-card Angels, then lost Game 7.
And Baker was gone shortly thereafter, off to the Windy City for the daunting challenge of managing the Cubs.