Romo, bullpen mates rise to the challenge

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Romo, bullpen mates rise to the challenge

DETROIT -- The Giants bullpen spent all season answering questions about its legitimacy after the loss of closer Brian Wilson in April.

So it only seemed appropriate Sergio Romo and the crew answered one more query on Sunday night.

Romo closed out the 21st sweep in World Series history and put an exclamation point on another chapter of bullpen excellence with a strikeout of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in the 10th inning of a 4-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers in Game 4 at Comerica Park.

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Romo struck out all three batters he faced as he, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla combined for seven strikeouts in three shutout innings. Giants relievers finished the Series with a 1.54 ERA in 11 23 innings.

For Romo, the perfect final frame, one that ended as Cabrera watched an 89-mph fastball land in Buster Poseys mitt for a called third strike, was more affirmation his own doubts about his ability to handle the role were incorrect. Romo converted 18 of 19 save opportunities this season, including all four in the postseason.

It was quite the grind, quite the test, Romo said. I got asked to do something that I honestly felt was bigger than who I am and what I am. Just to be able to get it done, the confidence my teammates showed in me throughout the year, I feel beyond blessed.

Even after they lost Wilson to reconstructive elbow surgery in mid-April, the Giants confidence never wavered in their bullpen even though their wasnt a proven closer in the bunch. Wilson may have converted 163 saves over the previous four seasons, but manager Bruce Bochy still had Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez among others on which to rely.

Giants relievers posted a 3.56 ERA in the regular season and finished with 53 saves. Those figures only improved in the postseason and peaked in the World Series, when Giants relievers allowed two earned runs and two hits in 11 23 innings. Bolstered by the addition of two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, the bullpen struck out 17 Detroit hitters against two walks and a hit batter.

They found ways to finish games for us, starter Matt Cain said.

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Our bullpen has been unbelievable not only in the postseason, but the regular season, starter Madison Bumgarner said. When the postseason came they were even more locked in. We had 100 percent faith in them. We knew if it came to a matchup of bullpens we had a really good shot.

Game 4 provided the Giants with their first true battle of the bullpens. The Giants and Tigers were tied at 3 when Affeldt took over for Cain to start the eighth inning. After he started with a walk of Quintin Berry to start the frame, Affeldt went on to strike out Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Delmon Young in order.

The left-hander then struck out Andy Dirks to start the ninth inning and got Jhonny Peralta to fly out to deep center before Casilla entered the game.

(Affeldt) is going to go after you with everything he has got, especially in situations like this, fellow reliever Clay Hensley said. Hes a winner.

Romo has proven himself to have similar qualities even if its something he questioned. With a wipeout slider in tow, Romo allowed one run and four hits in 10 23 innings this postseason. He walked one batter and struck out nine.

But it was more than the numbers that displayed Romos grit. He survived a 12-pitch showdown against Jay Bruce in the NLDS clincher on Oct. 11 with the tying runs aboard and then silenced the Tigers on three separate occasions.

Even with Cabrera looming, Lopez said he had no doubt Romo would close out the Giants second World Series title in three seasons when he took the mound.

(Romo) has an unhittable slider and he throws strikes so I think thats what puts him in that spot, Lopez said. Hes a little man, but he pitches like hes a big man. Hes 180 pounds, if that, when hes soaking wet, and he goes out and pitches like hes 6-4, 250. The guys got it and he showed it tonight and all series.

Giants lineup: Ruggiano moves up against lefty Lester

Giants lineup: Ruggiano moves up against lefty Lester

Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon issued their lineups for Game 2 of the four-game series in Chicago:

Giants (20-26)
1. Joe Panik (L) 2B
2. Christian Arroyo (R) 3B
3. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Justin Ruggiano (R) RF
6. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
7. Eduardo Nunez (R) LF
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Johnny Cueto (R) P (4-3, 4.50 ERA)

Cubs (22-21)
1. Ben Zobrist (S) 2B
2. Kyle Schwarber (L) LF
3. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
5. Ian Happ (S) CF
6. Jason Heyward (L) RF
7. Willson Contreras (R) C
8. Addison Russell (R) SS
9. Jon Lester (L) P (2-2, 3.57 ERA)

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.