PHILADELPHIA – We’ve seen this situation before.
Bases loaded. No outs. A one-run game. And a bearded closer on the mound.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy made it to the top step of the dugout, intent on calming down Sergio Romo. The Phillies had loaded the bases on an error, a bunt that turned into a hit when Romo slipped while trying to pivot, and a hit batter.
Bochy did not make it to the grass.
“I started to go out and I said, `You know what? He’s a tough kid,’” Bochy said. “So I just backed off there. That’s his game. There’s nobody up behind him. He’s been in that situation.
“He’s our closer.”
Romo’s 25th save was among the toughest of his career. Two shallow fly balls and a ground out later, he was screaming toward the heavens, the Giants were 2-1 winners, they had a rare road series victory, and from all the high emotion, you’d never figure them for a last-place team.
“You’ve just got to keep your faith that at worst they’ll tie the game,” Bochy said. “We were giving them that. We had our infield back. But that’s what makes closers so good. They’re so tough in tough situations.”
Brian Wilson was nails in those situations, too. He almost seemed to crave the high-wire rush. For years, when Giants baseball was torture, he brought the shackles and the morningstar.
The Giants didn’t sign Wilson this week. He went to the Dodgers, instead, claiming his former team “didn’t want me.” GM Brian Sabean offered a conflicting account, saying “it was obvious we were interested,” but that the three-time All-Star and sometime prop comic wanted to sign “at lightning speed.”
Based on everything I can gather, there’s a little truth from both sides here. Upper management recognized the value that Wilson had both as an attraction and an endearing figure in franchise history. Others in the organization were put off by Wilson’s antics and the fact he showed up all of the sudden down the stretch, cavorting around the dugout just when all the national cameras showed up.
But ultimately, CEO Larry Baer told Sabean to make a baseball decision. And part of a baseball decision is making sure you have a healthy and cohesive clubhouse.
The Giants already had a closer who was good enough to make the NL All-Star team last month, who had the trust of his teammates, who pitches with a chip on his shoulder but occasionally grapples with a little-man complex because nobody expected his baseball career to amount to anything.
If the Giants had signed Wilson, what would happen the first time Romo blew a couple saves in a row? When would the voices in the local media start blaring for the original Fear the Beard? What if Romo were pitching through a tangled mess – say, bases loaded and no outs – and looked behind him to see that bushy black beard and those too-tight pants, in full bull-rush mode on the bullpen mound?
Wilson as a setup man might work with the Dodgers. It would’ve been awkward with the Giants.
So Sabean didn’t jump to offer him a contract at lightning speed. And Bochy didn’t jump onto the field to visit Romo in the ninth inning, after the Phillies filled up the bases.
Romo had taken a loss in each of his two previous appearances – the first time that’s happened to him in his career. He did not lose a third time.
“The mindset is, if I give up a run, just leave it at that,” Romo said. “Just don’t lose the game. Buster said, `You gotta bear down,’ and that’s the mindset I took.”
When he got a fly ball from Laynce Nix, he started to think that one pitch could get him the double-play to escape. He got another shallow fly out instead. Then came the grounder and a flip to second base that sent the Giants onto a late but happy flight to Tampa.
“I was … pretty fortunate,” said Romo, with a smile that held equal parts humility and relief. “No one is giving up. We’re all trying to keep progressing. You know you’re not going it alone out there. You know everyone still wants it so much.”
Romo has 25 saves. He wants more of those, too. He's the closer, after all.
“For me it’s huge,” he said. “It means I’ve been able to reward their efforts. That’s the most fulfilling part.”