SAN FRANCISCO – There are nights when Sergio Romo’s slider falls off the table. And there are nights when it’s a Frisbee in a nor’easter.
With the Giants in need of a rare, four-out save, Romo’s slider rivaled the nastiest it’s ever been. He yielded a leadoff single to Jay Bruce, resulting in some eye contact and a head nod to the recent past, but struck out the other four batters he faced to save the Giants’ 5-3 victory and a doubleheader split in Game 2 Tuesday night.
It was the first time in Romo’s career that he struck out four batters in an appearance.
“I felt rested. I felt good,” said Romo, who is 24 for 27 in save chances. “The breaking ball was better today than other nights. It’s kind of my go-to pitch, so I’ve gotta think it’s good every night.”
First, Romo struck out Brandon Phillips to strand two runners in the eighth, picking up both Javier Lopez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval, whose fielding error allowed the go-ahead run to come to the plate.
They were two of the 14 baserunners the Giants stranded in the game.
But Bruce singled to start the ninth. It was his first hit in five career at-bats against Romo – including the unforgettable, 12-pitch battle with the tying runs on base in Game 5 of the NL Division Series last October at Great American Ball Park.
“When he got the hit, I looked at him, like, `All right, nice hit,’” said Romo, with a chuckle. “But I’m glad he got that hit tonight and not however many months ago.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants earn split with Game 2 win]
The Reds wouldn’t get another. Todd Frazier, who was 7 for 14 with four doubles in the series as he stepped to the plate, was looking for his sixth hit of the day. He struck out on a slider. Zack Cozart nearly lunged into the other batter’s box while trying to protect on a two-strike pie plate before swinging through another. And Devin Mesoraco, whose three-run homer broke open the Reds’ 9-3 victory in Game 1, became the third hitter to do a Gas-House Gorillas impression while whiffing to end it.
Bochy won’t often tap Romo for a four-out save. This was one of those times, and helped the Giants gain a bit more than a victory and a split on the day. Given how the Reds had dominated them in the previous six losses, outscoring them 34-6 and bossing them in a no-hitter, they might have gained a measure of self-respect.
“It was time to pull the trigger,” Romo said. “It worked.”
Nothing bonds one teammate to another than when they pick each other up. Barry Zito and Hunter Pence provided a good example in the third and fourth innings.
Zito looked very agitated after Pence dropped a fly ball for an error to put runners at first and second with one out in the third. He appeared to he shouting into his glove as pitching coach Dave Righetti tried to calm him down. Zito responded by throwing his best breaking pitches of the night to strike out Bruce and get Frazier to ground out.
He picked up Pence. Then it was Pence’s turn to reciprocate. Bochy agreed that Pence’s catch of Corky Miller’s drive to the gap in right-center probably was his most difficult as a Giant, all things considered.
He went such a long ways, he was almost in center field there,” Bochy said of Pence’s full-extension dive. “That’s a great catch but also an important catch. I’m sure it did a lot for Z. I didn’t think he had a chance for the ball.
“He’s got so much energy. We played two games and you wouldn’t know it. It’s like he hadn’t played in a week.”
Pence never looks tired on the field, even though he’s played all but 11 innings in right field all season (886 of 897, including all 18 Tuesday).
“Oh, I’m tired,” Pence said.
Pence said it was hard to compare this catch with the one he made to preserve Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter.
“Both were about as far as I could extend,” he said.
As for the Giants, extending themselves in the Game 2 victory after getting clubbed in Game 1?
“It’s who we are,” he said. “We’ll keep coming back, keep coming at you.”
You don’t have to tell the Reds twice.
Ryan Vogelsong gave up two hits and struck out two in his first rehab appearance down in the Arizona Rookie League. He got through two innings before hitting his 35-pitch limit.
Francisco Peguero is back with Triple-A Fresno after missing more than a month with a concussion after he was plunked on the helmet by a pitch. He doubled in his first at-bat.
Peguero’s on-base skills are not good, but he’s got as much bat speed as anyone in the system and he’s the one guy in the upper minors that might be able to give the team a sustained spark if he played every day.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen with this Tanaka-Francoeur platoon (my guess is that Francoeur is going to get a shot to play every day before it’s said and done), but once Peguero gets enough at-bats at Fresno to develop some timing, I’d expect he would be back in the big leagues.
As expected, Eric Surkamp was returned to Fresno after his Game 1 start.
Cheers to plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, who had two close plays at the plate and got them both correct. (He still received an earful from Dusty Baker on one call and Bruce Bochy on another.)
I was visiting in the press box with umpiring supervisor Ed Montague when Cuzzi glanced up between innings and made eye contact. Montague knew that look. He wanted to know if he got it right when he called Brandon Crawford safe in the second inning.
Montague made a thumbs-up motion, and then Cuzzi appeared to blanch a bit. Montague laughed. “He thinks I’m making an out call,” he said. So Montague started applauding to let Cuzzi know the runner, indeed was safe.
A couple innings later, there was another close play. This time, Bruce scored from first base on Frazier’s double. Once again, Cuzzi got the call right.
The Giants made a pitching change, replacing Barry Zito with Jake Dunning, and Cuzzi dutifully kept a watch on the number of warmups. But when he circled back to get behind the dish, he snuck a look back at Montague.
More applause. And Cuzzi puffed out his shoulders in an exaggerated motion, pulled down his mask and went back to work.
A subtext to this story, of course, is that Cuzzi blew the call at the plate on Travis Ishikawa back in a July, 2010 game against the Mets. It should’ve been a walk-off victory but the Mets won in extra innings – and the Giants thought back to that game all season as they chased the San Diego Padres in the standings.
Turns out the Giants won the West in the 162nd game, won the World Series – and after those two correct calls Tuesday night, I think it’s OK to let one three-year-old mistake rest in the past.