Romo, Giants complete a Biblical comeback against Reds

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Romo, Giants complete a Biblical comeback against Reds

BOX SCORE

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.

Everyone danced.

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.

Giants lineup: Belt in left field, Kelby at second base

Giants lineup: Belt in left field, Kelby at second base

Programming note: Dodgers-Giants coverage starts today at 11:30am with Giants Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

Dave Roberts and Bruce Bochy issued their lineups for today's series finale at AT&T Park:

Dodgers (10-12)
1. Enrique Hernandez (R) CF
2. Corey Seager (L) SS
3. Justin Turner (R) 3B
4. Yasiel Puig (R) RF
5. Chris Taylor (R) 2B
6. Austin Barnes (R) C
7. Scott Van Slyke (R) 1B
8. Cody Bellinger (L) LF
9. Julio Urias (L) P

Giants (8-14) 
1. Hunter Pence (R) RF
2. Brandon Belt (L) LF
3. Eduardo Nunez (R) SS
4. Buster Posey (R) 1B
5. Christian Arroyo (R) 3B
6. Nick Hundley (R) C
7. Kelby Tomlinson (R) 2B
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Matt Moore (L) P (1-3, 5.87 ERA)

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

SAN FRANCISCO — This spring, Hunter Pence briefly tried to cut back on his coffee intake. The experiment did not last long for a player who is pure caffeine on and off the field, but even Pence is occasionally in need of more than a large cold brew. 

Pence tried to stay upbeat throughout a sluggish start to the season, but around him was a clubhouse in need of energy. Christian Arroyo walked through the door on Monday. Two days later, Michael Morse arrived.

“That’s quite an energy jolt,” Pence said of Arroyo. “Morse, it’s been an energy jolt as well.”

The two recent River Cats sent a pair of jolts through a stadium that was sold out for the 499th consecutive time. Arroyo hit a two-run homer in the seventh, his first in the big leagues. Morse went deep in the eighth for his first big league hit in two years and first homer as a Giant since the 2014 NLCS. 

Pence is close friends with Morse and an admirer of Arroyo, the 21-year-old who has taken a locker a few feet away. He made sure neither jolt went to waste, hitting a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th to give the Giants a thrilling 4-3 win they hope they can build on.

“That was a shot in the arm,” Morse said.

The big slugger was just that earlier Wednesday. Morse agreed to terms on a minor league deal at Pence’s wedding last winter and he was on track for Opening Day before a hamstring injury. He was so excited by Wednesday’s call back to San Francisco that he beat Bruce Bochy to the park. The manager tried to lower expectations before the game, telling reporters that Morse would not be a regular starter, especially in left, where the Giants have watched a black hole open. 

Morse was here for the late innings, for the moment when Bochy looks at him and says simply, “Get ready, Mo.” For most of Wednesday’s game, it looked like that big moment wouldn’t come. Alex Wood took a no-hitter into the sixth but he was pulled in the seventh by a Dodgers staff trying to protect his arm. Sergio Romo entered and soon faced a kid who was 19 the first time he walked into Romo’s clubhouse. 

“He’s been doing the same thing in the big leagues with good results for a long time,” Arroyo said. 

Arroyo got the slider that’s always coming, low and away, and he drilled it deep to left-center. He hit only three homers last year but Giants management felt the 36 doubles at Richmond showed a developing power bat. The strength has come quickly, and the ball carried into the first row of seats. 

“I looked up and saw the ump waving and I was like, ‘I’ve got to slow down,’” Arroyo said, smiling. “I tried to slow down and take it all in.”

As Arroyo crossed the plate and looked to the sky, his family shared hugs — without spilling a nacho — in a section overlooking the home dugout. The ballpark roared. A 3-0 deficit had been nearly erased. 

“Now it’s a one-run game,” Bochy said. “Anything can happen.”

Even by that standard, Morse’s blast was improbable. This is a player who didn’t have a hit last season before being sent home by the Pittsburgh Pirates. A player who, at 35, was having a poor spring before he announced to a reporter one day that he was going to hit a homer -- and then promptly did. On a rehab assignment over the past week, Morse had a .250 average and no homers, but he insisted to general manager Bobby Evans that his swing was ready. 

Evans believed, and Morse rewarded him with a moment that had everyone in the park throwing it back to 2014. Just as in the deciding game of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Morse was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. Sidewinding Pat Neshek was replaced by fire-balling Pedro Baez, but the approach was the same. 

“Swing hard,” Morse said. “Just in case you hit it.”

Baez kept pumping fastballs and Morse turned on one at 97 mph. He raised his arm the same way he did three years ago, an inning before Travis Ishikawa’s heroics. 

“I’m not going to lie,” Bochy said. “I was thinking about that game against St. Louis.”

All the Giants were. 

“You kind of just sit there and shake your head a little bit because it was very similar to his last homer here,” Posey said. “Even his excitement out of the box was similar.”

Morse said he didn’t intend to strike the same pose. 

“I was like, ‘I hope I didn’t strike out and I’m just running around the bases,’” he said, laughing. “It was cool, man. Not only for me, but for the team.”

For four innings, the surging bullpen made sure the homers would not be a fun footnote to another loss. Gorkys Hernandez kicked off the winning rally in the 10th with a single. He was pushed along by a stolen base, walk and bunt. Pence stepped in with no outs and engaged in one of the strangest battles of a career full of them. 

Ross Stripling, a starter with a deep repertoire, kept pumping 94 mph fastballs up near Pence’s eyes. Pence swung through one, fouled off five, and took three more for balls. Only one of the pitches he saw was in the strike zone. In the dugout, Posey shook his head in amusement. 

“It was kind of hard not to laugh,” Posey said. “He’s probably the only guy who can do that.”

Some Giants couldn’t hold the laughter in, even in a tense spot.

“He had that ‘Thou shall not walk’ going in that at-bat,” Bochy said. “He probably expanded as much as I’ve ever seen. If he would have walked it would have gone down as one of the more amazing walks with all the balls he swung at.”

On a night full of so much energy, a walk would have been an anticlimactic ending. Pence, who had been expecting a curveball the whole at-bat, lofted a 10th fastball deep enough to left to score Hernandez and send the Giants streaming out of the dugout. 

Arroyo, the youngest of them all, went sprinting across the infield. Morse followed, and soon he had Pence wrapped in a hug. Hours earlier, he had promised that at the very least, he would bring energy to the clubhouse. He delivered more than anyone could have imagined.

“To do that is one of those special moments that can change a season,” Pence said. “It was electric ... Morsey being Morsey.”