SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Plenty of folks wonder about Sergio Romo’s durability. But there’s no questioning his desire, his heart or his fearlessness.
All if it was born out last October in that 12-pitch battle with Jay Bruce in Cincinnati, when the season dangled on a single at-bat. It bubbled up again in Detroit, when Romo looked inside the gaping maw of a Triple Crown winner, and threw a daring, 89 mph fastball down the middle that froze Miguel Cabrera to send corks popping.
For the first time since that great meatball of moxie, Romo took the mound Tuesday at Scottsdale Stadium and threw a pitch to a batter. It happened to be another strong-statured third baseman from Venezuela, Pablo Sandoval, and both of them relished the confrontation.
“It was a flashback to a great moment -- that last pitch that ended it all,” Bochy said. “That went through a few minds today, I’m sure, including his.”
There’s no question that Romo has the stuff, both inside and out, to meet the big moments. But what about the durability? Can he handle being used three days in a row, or come back a night after throwing 35 pitches?
And what about the mental durability? Will a pitcher who gets so disconsolate after defeats be able to show up to the ballpark the next day and trick himself into amnesia?
That hasn’t always been easy for Romo in the past. But he said he’s a different pitcher now, and that’s partly a reflection of the light his teammates hold him under.
“I used to pitch with some attitude written on my forehead, so to speak, and I think I became a better pitcher not having that,” Romo said. “Down the stretch my teammates told me I didn’t need that to get the job done. So in all reality, it made me a better pitcher. I grew a little bit. And last year was definitely a humbling experience for me, good and bad. It definitely was.”
The pitch to Cabrera will linger in memory and will be replayed, both on scoreboards and in the minds of baseball fans. World Series clinching moments usually stand the test of time.
But that confrontation with Bruce is what elevated Romo’s status to full-fledged closer. Bruce represented the winning run in the ninth inning. Any single mistake could’ve been hammered over the fence and the Reds, not the Giants, would’ve advanced.
Bruce kept fouling off pitch after pitch. Romo kept coming back with something else on the periphery.
“At that moment for my team, I had to step up,” Romo said. “One swing could’ve changed the outcome. So I had to dig a little deeper. It was, `Literally, you aren’t going to beat me.’ That was the mentality. You couldn’t. Not saying he didn’t want it, but I felt that I wanted it more. I felt I needed it more.”
Romo felt something else in that sequence, which ended with a fly out to left field: Comments from his infielders, looks of approval from the dugout, and an overriding sense from his teammates that they had the right person on the mound.
“They all knew I was going to get it done,” Romo said. “I was not going to let them down. I couldn’t let them down. It was just a mindset. Just a battle. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
“That’s the one thing I feel I did most is I trusted my teammates. Their faith and confidence in me never wavered. They made me feel like it was, `Get it to Romo and it’s over.’ If I lacked any confidence or faith in myself, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
Still, there are moments when Romo’s faith has wavered. The Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez teed off twice against him last year, and it’s a pretty good bet they will meet again with a rivalry game or three on the line this season.
And if Romo lets his teammates down? If he blows two in a row?
Will Romo have to prove he can be durable mentally as well as physically?
“I agree, that’s going to be an adjustment for him, dealing with the ups and downs,” said Bochy, who plans to pull aside Romo for a discussion on that very topic this spring. “When it happens for a closer, the game’s over. So like all great closers, he’ll have to have a short memory and wash it off. It happens to everybody.
“With his mentality and personality, he does feel he’s letting his teammates down. He’s got to understand you’re not out there trying to make mistakes.”
Romo said he’ll be able to roll with any punches landed against him. Former Giants closer Brian Wilson has been a huge resource for him, and so was Giants special assistant Robb Nen.
What did Wilson tell him?
“It ultimately came down to, `Get your outs and celebrate,’” Romo said. “Regardless of what’s at stake, get your outs and then go be happy.”
Romo made a career-high 69 appearances last year and was used as more than just a right-handed specialist. He held left-handers to an astounding .136 average (mostly because of an improved changeup and more confidence in his fastball), yet he still averaged just 2.4 outs per game.
He’ll be relied upon to pitch more full innings in the closer role, and there will be times Bochy has to give him a rest and look elsewhere in the ninth. Romo’s trick knees always seem to have their moments, and the slider is forever a grinding pitch for anyone – let alone a skinny, 5-foot-10 right-hander.
But as they say, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight.
“I mean, I take offense to that guy getting a base hit against me,” he said. “I take offense to that guy getting comfortable in the box against me. Why? I mean, why not? That guy’s trying to take food off my table.
“I’m a hungry individual. I definitely want to eat.”
“My approach is a fighter’s approach: my best against your best. So when it comes to being hard on myself, I’m honest with myself. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that way or have that approach. That makes me who I am.”
So which moment stands out? Is it the battle with Bruce or the ultimate victory in Detroit? What does Romo consider his best moment of the 2012 postseason?
“Well, I’ll give you four,” he said. “The clincher for the NL West, the clincher for the DS, for the LCS and the World Series. It was those moments that I was able to take a step back and watch my team celebrate. That’s what I played for. That’s what I was looking for. That’s what I wanted to give my team. I was very proud and fortunate to be able to do that, just to be a part of it.
“I took a step back all four times and I had my little moment. And I was very emotional in those moments to myself, just watching them celebrate, watching them enjoy what we worked so hard to get. Those are the most gratifying moments for me, by far.
“It was just a feeling of, what’s the word? Sheer euphoria. It was an unbelievable feeling and I want to get that back. I do.”