CINCINNATI The middle is always important. But so muchrests on the first and last note.
You saw how the Giants ended the greatest comeback by a National League team in theDivision Series era with Sergio Romo stutter-stepping like he was at abackyard party, the gleeful Giants surrounding him and then popping anotherround of champagne blasts to celebrate their survival after a 6-4 victory overthe Cincinnati Reds carried them through to the NLCS.
BAGGS' INSTANT REPLAY: Giants slam into NLCS
But how did it begin? And where? How did the Giants generatemomentum from nothing, fuel from a barren landscape and belief after neverleading one single inning in two dispiriting defeats at home?
With the Old Testament. Of course.
It was the Gideon speech, Giants third base coach TimFlannery said. Thats where it started.
Flannery has heard the speech before, whenever manager BruceBochys team faced hopeless odds. The old base coach can almost mouth thewords. Gideon was hopelessly outnumbered by the Midianites, armed only withhis shofar
The Giants led a small vanguard into Cincinnati. No NationalLeague team had ever come back from an 0-2 deficit to advance in the DivisionSeries era. No team had won three in a row in Cincinnati all season. And noteam in baseball history had captured a best-of-5 series by winning the finalthree games on the road.
So Bochy consulted the book of Judges, which was appropriate because, as Flannery said,This is a spiritual team. On chapel day, you dont see any of them.
When Bochy was through, there was silence.
Then, said Flannery, Hunter got up and said, Thats allwell and good, but
Hunter Pence hit .200 in the series, without a single runscored or RBI. But his Look Into Each Others Eyes speech, most of which hasbecome public knowledge by now, drove in all 24 of his teammates.
I heard some (bad) words in there and said, Now thatspreaching! said Flannery, wiping sweat and champagne off his bald head.Youve got to sin to be forgiven. Thats what my dad always told me.
But you know, hey, its good they understood the firstmiracle of Jesus was to turn water into wine. Because theyre all drinking sometonight!
There were too many performances to toast:
--Buster Posey, of course, for his MVP swing in an MVPmoment against a heel, Mat Latos, whom Vince McMahon couldnt have drawn up anybetter.
--Matt Cain, for matching Latos zero for zero until his teamtook the lead in the fifth and becoming the first Giants starting pitcher inthis series to retire a hitter in the sixth inning.
--Brandon Crawford, for his triple that landed a first blowagainst Latos, and later for his defense, both solid and spectacular, to helpthe bullpen stabilize one unsteady inning after another.
--The bullpen, for bending like a coastal cypressbut never toppling over in the breeze as the Reds got the tying (or winning)run to the plate in each of the last four innings.
--Bochy, for sleeping on yet another decision -- playingCrawford or Joaquin Arias -- and waking up with yet another right answer in apostseason game.
--Angel Pagan, for his diving, rolling, fist-pumping (whilestill rolling) catch in center field in an eighth inning that eroded thestomach lining of every Giants fan.
--And finally, the end. The Giants needed someone besidesBrian Wilson to throw a clinching pitch to end a postseason series. No otherGiant had done it since Robb Nen. So they turned to a 5-foot-9 right-handerplucked in the 28th round seven years ago from a junior college inGrand Junction, Colo.
Sergio Romo has been undermanned his whole life. There was no one better suited to blow Gideon's horn.
All I had in my head was, This is man against man and Icant lose, said Romo, choking up between words. They looked at me to do it.My teammates looked at me. They trusted me. Its just what a feeling, youknow?
It was the feeling of a season that hung on every pitch,after the resilient Reds threatened again. Zack Cozart walked, Joey Votto andRyan Ludwick hit singles and Jay Bruce stepped up as the winning run.
Romo was never supposed to face Bruce, but the baseball godshave a taste for theater.
An inning earlier, Jeremy Affeldt would have matched upagainst Bruce to start the eighth, but a foul ball off the bat of Gregor Blancoshot into the dugout. Affeldt, who stood atop the stairs as he awaited his turnon deck, barely avoided being struck. But he tumbled down the steps and jammedhis left wrist as he braced his fall.
Bochy had to scramble. He used his best left-handedspecialist, Javier Lopez, to retire Bruce in the eighth.
Lopez handled lefties. Romo handled righties. Thats how it always worked in the eighth inning, behind Wilson. That part of the plandisintegrated along with Wilsons ulnar collateral ligament before the Giantsplayed their home opener in April. So Lopez and Romo slid over to the ninth over the secondhalf, sharing closing duties as the matchups warranted.
And along the way, Romoquietly began to grow in new directions.
He became the right-handed specialist who held lefties to aneven better average. They batted .162 against him. He did that by keeping hislethal, back-bending slider as a show-me pitch and instead relying on his two-seamfastball.
It was 88 mph and didnt have any special cut or crazy sink.But he learned to trust it like it was 98 mph. He threw it to corners. And henever needed to trust it more.
The entire series was down to this: A home run and the Redswould advance. Bruce hit 34 of them in the regular season, including 21 in hishome park.
Where they play pepper with the Ohio River, as Flanneryput it.
Romo could not give up nor give in. He needed to paint histwo-seamer. Then he needed to paint some more. Bruce fouled off six consecutive2-2 fastballs, all barely brushing the outside edge of the plate, with the crowdimploring all the while for a home run that would punch them through.
Two-seamer away. Two-seamer away. Two-seamer away.Two-seamer away. Two-seamer away.
Its what Serge wanted to do, Posey said. He wascommitted to it. It was one of the best battles Ive ever been a part of. Romojust kept on executing and Bruce kept fouling them off.
Said Romo: It was a battle. But I knew I wanted it just alittle bit more.
After a waste pitch ran the count full, Romo came back with the 12th of the at-bat. A slider. If it hung, there was a good chance the Giants would reconvene inScottsdale.
The pitch broke just enough, and late enough, for Bruce to fly outto left field.
Tell you what, Posey said. It took a lot of guts for himto throw that.
Wilson, the master of brash, saw it the same way.
In this ballpark, all it takes is one crack of the bat,Wilson said. But our confidence in him overpowers anything any other teamcould do.
Scott Rolen was the Reds' last chance, and maybe the last breath in his respected career. Romo went to his slider. Then hedanced.
I am exhausted, man, absolutely exhausted,Pagan said. But you know what? We always believed we could do this. Nobody believedwe could come here and win three games. But we didnt have to win three in oneday. It was win one, win one, win one, and thats what we did.
They began with Ryan Vogelsong setting a "hell no" tone in Game 3. And the team that GM Brian Sabeancalls the cockroaches are still skittering along.
Sabean says it all the time, Flannery said. Its, You guysare a bunch of cockroaches. I could put nine of you in a microwave for 10minutes and eight of you would walk out alive.
And hes right. I mean, the Dodgers bought themselves awhole new team. We lost Melky. I remember the coaches watching that come acrossthe TV and go, Ohhh no. But these guys dont watch it or understand it orcare about it.
They just like to play the game together.
And they dont want it to end.