PITTSBURGH Sergio Romo hears it all the time. He knowsthey always mean well.
They call it from the stands. They rain down sweet tweets.They tell him he should be the Giants closer, and not Santiago Casilla.
Romo heard it even when Casilla was dominating whilerecording 19 of his first 20 save chances. He heard it with greater frequencywhen Casilla hit a six-appearance skid, and blew three of four chances.
With Casilla unavailable because of a blister Friday night,Romo inherited the one-run lead in the ninth inning. He retired three hitters,including the incredible Andrew McCutchen on a ground out to end a badly needed6-5 victory at PNC Park.
RECAP: Giants 6, Pirates 5
Youd better believe Romo will hear it now.
Here is his response:
Closer I dont want that title, he said. I dont needthat title. I just want the opportunity to pitch. Casilla has done a great joball year. He hit a rough patch but who cares? He was our closer. He is ourcloser. So yeah.
Romos status as a fan favorite doesnt just stem from hissuccess on the mound. He exudes joy in everything he does. Most teams have toscour the clubhouse and beg a player to catch the ceremonial first pitch. Romoinsists on volunteering every single day. It could be a celebrity or aninsurance salesman who met his sales quota. Romo gets behind the plate forevery one of them, in full perma-grin.
Ceremonial catcher? Thats the only job he insists onhaving.
Im really fortunate things have gone well and I appreciatethe support and that people back me up, but Im here to get outs, Romo said. Seventh,eighth, ninth is irrelevant. The team needs me every time to be good so I havethat mentality: Do good, and Im fortunate to be put in tough situations.
The Giants had several of them Friday night. In addition to Romos guts and stuff in the ninth, they also needed two crisp innings from Brad Penny, who is becoming a regularcaddy for Barry Zito. They needed George Kontos to step into an eighth-inningrole and protect a one-run lead. They needed to get over the shock of JavierLopez allowing his first home run in three seasons as a Giant.
The Giants bullpen has been scored upon in 11 of the last 15games. Its a strength of the team, but Casilla had blown three saves in hislast four chances and the rest of the unit was having a rough stretch behindhim.
So this was an important game for the Giants bullpen,especially coming off getting swept in three games at Nationals Park.
Weve got some fresh arms and weve got Penny, whos beendoing it for 12 years, said Lopez, whose 457-foot gopherball to Pedro Alvarezearned the status of curiosity piece because of the happy outcome. He bringsconfidence to the pen, and then weve got Kontos who is getting an opportunityto establish himself and hes taken advantage of it. Well be playing a lot oftight ballgames in the second half, so were used to this.
So is Romo, who has a 0.72 ERA and has held opponents to a.129 average. Hes been unscored upon in 58 of 61 outings dating back to lastseason. And dont forget, last year he pitched the equivalent of a perfectgame, plus four more hitters. He retired 31 consecutive hitters over a stretchof 15 appearances.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy is using Romo a little more oftenagainst left-handed hitters this season, but there remains no plans to have thefearless little Frisbee thrower enter the closer role.
The main reasons: Hes way too effective as a right-handedspecialist paired with Lopez, and his slight frame and history of elbowinflammation make it hard for Bochy to use him the way a closer needs to beused, sometimes pitching on a third consecutive day or four out five, etc., assave situations present themselves.
He pitches efficiently, Bochy said. He throws strikes. Hecan pitch to both sides of the plate. You talk about his slider but he can runa pretty good fastball by you at times.
There might comes a day when Romo proves hes durable enoughto get a look in that ninth-inning role. But Bochy isnt going to try it now, especiallywhen Casilla was so good until the last few bumpy outings.
Romo certainly has the stomach for any situation. He didnt backdown when McCutchen stepped in the box.
Everyone with a bat is dangerous, Romo said. I had to gothrough two guys before I got to him. Once he stepped in the box, yeah, thenits me and him. And really, I take pride in being able to get guys like himout. When I do, its really gratifying.
For Romo, and his fans.