Sergio Romo captures Giants' championship spirit of oddball underdogs
DETROIT – Victory at last came from the right hand of the most eccentric of the San Francisco Giants. Sergio Romo threw one last fastball to Miguel Cabrera and then he jumped and flailed his arms and made all the strange arm twists and jerks that have been the image of these Giants postseason victories. He danced on the mound. He jumped in teammates' arms. He ran around.
None of it seemed to make much sense Sunday night.
Then again what does make sense with the team that has handled each stumble with a shrug and a laugh? When Melky Cabrera, the league's leading hitter, was suspended after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, Gregor Blanco helped take the Giants to the playoffs and made several key plays in the World Series. When the pitching staff seemed to fall apart in the first-round series against Cincinnati, they found a way to survive three games on the road and make it to face the St. Louis Cardinals, who they beat by winning three straight.
Then the Giants swept the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, the final game a 4-3 victory in 10 innings.
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So, no, they never much worried about who would be the team's closer when Brian Wilson needed surgery. They first used Santiago Casilla until a blister developed on his hand. Then they turned to Romo late in the year. And everything seemed to take off after that.
"He's never lacked for confidence," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "We never worried about that."
But there also might not be a better symbol for how the Giants won this World Series. There is probably a little of Romo in all of them. He isn't tall. He doesn't throw hard. For the longest time he was considered to be a relief pitcher who could pitch only to right-handed hitters. He didn't have a fast enough fastball or a mean enough slider to get lefties out.
And yet like Wilson, Romo seems a little crazy. His eccentricities, a long beard and scraggly arms, fit well in a clubhouse that never seems to take itself too seriously.
"He's a little different, but I think that's a lot of the guys in here," San Francisco catcher Eli Whiteside said as he pulled down the plastic that covered his locker.
Most teams are serious. Most teams dress stoically (professionally they call it) in sterile clubhouses. Most teams don't have players who grow strange beards like Romo or Wilson or right fielder Hunter Pence. Most teams don't have the awkward mohawks that many Giants players have. Most teams don't have pitchers with painted fingernails like Wilson does. Whatever goes in San Francisco's clubhouse, it's not like the rest of baseball.
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Tim Flannery considered this thought as he stood in the hallway outside a clubhouse that reeked of champagne. It was an hour after the series had ended and you could still hear the pops of bottles inside. The Giants third base coach and a longtime confidant of manager Bruce Bochy remembers when teams used to be built with players that lasted. The core of his 1984 Padres, who lost the World Series here to Detroit, appeared to him to stay together for much of the decade. Lots of teams did. It was easy to build cohesion then. Teams didn't need to find ways to bond.
It's all so different now, he said. Players come and go. They want big money. They need statistics for arbitration. They worry about free agency. They seem more like independent contractors than teammates.
So when they get a team like this one, a peculiar one where many of the players have some kind of unusual thing about them, it brings them together. Flannery saw it in 2010 when several of the same players won the World Series. They came together because they weren't like the other teams. They came together because they were goofy.
"I looked around at them today," Flannery said. "The pressure should be on them, but they were the same."
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Romo is a complicated figure, sometimes friendly and sometimes surly. After the celebration on the field, he stayed away from much of the postgame party that raged in the clubhouse. For a time he was in a weight room with what appeared to be family members. He sat in his locker behind the plastic with them in an attempt to get away from the spraying champagne, lurking reporters and people taking pictures. He never did want to talk about what it was like to be on the mound of the World Series.
Maybe it was something he hoped to keep private.
He learned to get better against left-handed hitters. He learned to throw a biting sinker that might be the last thing he needed to become a closer. Whiteside, who caught many of those practice sessions, noticed that the next-to-last out Romo got on Sunday was against Don Kelly, a left-handed hitter.
Somehow to him it seemed to say something about the pitcher and about all of them. It's a team that is a little different, a little weird and that seems to make everything work.
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