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2012 NLDS Goes To The Giants

(originally written 10/11/12)

When the San Francisco Giants clinched the NL West, I wrote an article listing all the (alleged) setbacks the team was forced to overcome just to earn that playoff spot, from the fall of Tim Lincecum to the suspension of the unnamed left fielder to the stacks upon stacks of ego-inflating marriage proposals mailed to the Brandons Belt and Crawford every homestand.

(Okay, I fabricated that last one.)

In that article, I reinforced my position on injured closer Brian Wilson—as good as he is, he is no Mariano Rivera, and the Giants' bullpen won't be nearly as affected as everyone not named Skillz is convinced it will. 

Today, during the ninth inning of Game 5 of the Giants/Reds NLDS, I almost ate my words like a tray of garlic fries.

For those of you who don't know, when Wilson went down, Santiago Casilla inherited the bulk of ninth-inning save ops until he hit a wall—after which Bruce Bochy incorporated a committee of closers. Javier Lopez, typically a lefty specialist, and Sergio Romo, typically a late-inning righty specialist, teamed for 21 saves. This time, Bochy called on Romo to nail down the final three outs of an increasingly tense game.

Romo doesn't nab headlines like Lincecum, Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Wilson, Pablo Sandoval, or even the corpse of Aubrey Huff—although around the league, certain batters have taken offense at his animated, Joba-esque strikeout celebrations.

He's not your typical closer by any stretch. He isn't a screwball. He isn't intimidating. He is nothing at all like Wilson, even if he did grow a megabeard along with Wilson during the 2010 stretch run. Which, like everything else Romo, went unnoticed.

He doesn't come at batters with 98-mph fastballs and wicked splitters. Rather, he relies on an 88-mph "fastball," a changeup and his signature pitch, a frisbee slider that has tangled up right-handed hitters around baseball for five seasons now.

That slider, however, isn't much against lefties, and as his 11-pitch battle with Reds' OF Jay Bruce dragged on, I found myself increasingly longing for #38 for the first time all year. (He was there, but remains sidelined after Tommy John surgery.)

Romo had given up a one-out walk to SS Zach Cozart, then a single through the right side to ex-MVP Joey Votto. Thanks to an injury to Jeremy Affeldt, Lopez had been burned, although I'm not sure it would have mattered as Bochy didn't start warming lefty Jose Mijares until Bruce was already up. (Hope all the Bruce/Bochy references aren't confusing anyone else like they are me.)

Romo stayed away from Bruce like John Madden stays away from airplanes. Bruce fouled away pitch after pitch, some nicking the black, most just off it, each swing mightier than the last. Romo came inside for the final two pitches, missing a Maddux-style backwards K by two inches before inducing a pop-out to left on a slider. WHEW.

Still, he had to get through the fading Scott Rolen, a key member of the '10 Reds division winners but now just about finished. (Hey, the Giants have a guy like that!) However, he still has something of a pulse and retiring him was not a given—although, after Rolen whiffed through a backup slider, it was the outcome—sweetening an already-sugary win as yours truly is not a fan of Rolen or Reds' starter Mat Latos (who coughed up all six SF runs).

So, thanks to the efforts of Crawford (RBI triple) and Posey's tattooed grand slam in the fifth (and reportedly, Hunter Pence's motivational speeches), the Giants will go down as the first NL team to come back from 0-2 in the NLDS to advance to the NLCS. As this year is the first with a 2-home-3-away format, they'll also be the first to do so by winning the final three on the road.

As is their custom, they made it torturous even after going up 6-0. Never did you feel they had things under control; Cincinnati, to its credit, never quit, and if Crawford and Angel Pagan hadn't stolen hits from Ryan Hanigan and Dioner Navarro, respectively, in the eighth, this article goes in a totally different direction... does the Giants' team plane.

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