Programming note:Tune in tonight at 6:30 p.m. for the 2013 Giants Season Preview Show on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It’s part of a closer’s skill set, as important as having a strikeout pitch.
You must possess a short memory. You must flush the bad vibes of letting a lead slip away. You can’t ever take it personally.
That was the toughest part for Sergio Romo. Everything about wearing Mexican colors was so deeply, so intensely personal.
Mexico is out of the World Baseball Classic, due in great measure to the one-run lead that Romo couldn’t protect in a pool-play opening loss to Italy. Of course, with a competent left fielder, Romo likely shuts the door.
But the important thing isn’t that Edgar Gonzalez failed to make two plays or Mexico manager Rock Renteria blew it by failing to send in a defensive replacement for a career infielder.
It’s that Romo took responsibility for the loss. Then he went out the next day and dusted off Team USA, recording a save in just 13 pitches.
All of which bodes well for the Giants, who are relying on Romo to chair a bullpen committee and prove he’s physically and emotionally durable enough to do it.
“That game, I didn’t put every pitch where I wanted it,” Romo told me, after arriving back in camp with the Giants on Monday and taking part in the morning workout. “Not all of them were quality pitches. So I definitely take that on myself.”
And the following day, with 44,256 fans on their feet, Romo struck out Adam Jones, then set down Jonathan Lucroy and Jimmy Rollins to start the trumpets blaring.
Romo was born in California’s Imperial Valley to parents who emigrated from Mexico. He often wears T-shirts with messages like “Made in America with Mexican parts” and “I only look illegal.” He did not fail to deliver a victory to a decidedly pro-Mexican crowd on American soil.
“It did not feel good at all to let them down, but the next day, there was no chance I would let them down again,” Romo said. “With 45,000 people cheering for you, with my dad in the stands, I definitely felt there was no choice. I had to get it done.”
There will be games this season when Romo lets a lead get away, maybe because of an error or a bad break. That’s baseball, and he’s been disconsolate after some of those tough outings in the past.
But if he can bounce back from a bad result while pitching for his family and his country, maybe he’ll be able to do it in a big series at Dodger Stadium, too.
Romo always had to prove himself. He was smaller than everyone else, didn’t have the 95 mph fastball or the first-round pedigree. Now, after throwing the clinching pitch in a World Series last October, he’s out of water. He has to manage high expectations for the first time, and that can be unnerving.
How does Romo plan to handle it?
“I’ve gotten to this point in my life for a reason,” he said. “If I ever thought I was undeserving or didn’t work hard enough, I wouldn’t be in the big leagues. That was not the first blown save of my career. I’ve always found a way to come back. I’m always going to want the ball, and I know I can do well in this league. I’ve been fortunate to this point and I’ve proven I can do well.”
Romo played no real role in the biggest moment of Mexico’s WBC experience, when a series of events culminated in a benches-clearing brawl with Canada. Romo ran onto the field with the rest of his teammates but remained on the periphery as punches were thrown on both sides.
Romo didn’t care to comment about that part of his experience. But he is keeping his Team Mexico equipment bag, and many more memories.
“It’s one of those things I had to do at least once in my career,” he said. “I’m very grateful for the invitation to put on the Mexico jersey, and not just for myself. It’s for my parents and grandparents. I know what it meant to them for me to represent my heritage.
“You know, it was fun to play for a different cause.”