SAN FRANCISCO – On the list of problems that currently plague the Giants, Sergio Romo blowing off the media ranks somewhere on Page 106, just below Mike Murphy needing to reorder more sheets of those eye black stickers.
Romo can walk past as many microphones and notepads as he wants after the game. There might be a few fans who care if he is accountable afterwards. There are many, many more who just want him to spot his slider with the outcome at stake.
On Sunday, one of those sliders hovered over the plate to A.J. Ellis with the bases loaded in the ninth inning , turning a tie game into a 4-1 victory for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That one pitch and one swing also made the difference between a series victory or defeat for the Giants, who so desperately needed to take two of three.
[REPLAY: Kershaw continues dominance of Giants]
They did not. They’ve lost five straight series now, and 10 of 12 games.
This one came against the hottest team on the crudite tray that passes for the NL West. It came at AT&T Park, where the Giants still play with at least a speck of confidence. It came after an eight-inning stalemate against Clayton Kershaw, who makes his offseason home atop Mt. Olympus.
And it came at a time when Giants GM Brian Sabean is trying to determine whether there’s any difference between upgrading this roster on the trade market and paying for an addition while your house is disappearing down a sinkhole.
Sunday afternoon might not be the last place the Giants could’ve made a U-turn. But the coast was so, so clear.
Instead, the Dodgers cut off the Giants on the freeway, and gave them the finger, too. Nothing boils the blood quite like that, does it?
The ninth inning was personal, no doubt about it.
Start with Yasiel Puig, who didn’t lead off the inning with a home run but flipped his bat just the same. He singled off Romo, who had struck him out a day earlier. Then Adrian Gonzalez reached on an infield single off first baseman Buster Posey’s glove, with Posey compounding the problem by trying a desperate flip to second base for an error.
With runners at the corners, Hanley Ramirez tried to hit a 3-0 pitch over the Coke bottle and instead tapped back to Romo for a forceout. Then came an intentional walk and a masterful strikeout of former teammate Juan Uribe.
But just when it appeared Romo would escape, he hung an 0-1 slider to Ellis.
“That one, it didn’t do anything,” catcher Guillermo Quiroz said. “It was the only one he left in the strike zone.”
Romo stood and watched, hands on hips, as his outfielders tried to run it down in left-center field. Anything to avoid making eye contact with the Dodgers who rounded the bases.
Puig kept shooting glances back to the mound as he approached the dugout steps. Ramirez stood on the top step, too, and appeared to share a few choice comments.
A day earlier, Romo mimicked Ramirez’s “lo viste” hand gesture. The Dodgers responded by showing him the back of theirs.
“Yesterday, he struck me out, he controlled Hanley, and he celebrated,” Puig said in Spanish. “Today, it was our turn to celebrate. We were screaming at him, but it wasn’t anything bad.”
Romo had nothing to say afterward. He dressed quickly at his locker, kept a phone pressed to his ear as he walked past a crowd of awaiting reporters, and muttered into the receiver, “Only want to talk to me when I do (poorly)? Can't be human in this clubhouse."
It’s not the first time Romo has blown off reporters following a loss or a failed save opportunity. His forerunner, Brian Wilson, was not a champion in the accountability department, either. There’s no rule that requires a player to talk with the media after a game, good or bad. But players who conduct themselves with maturity and professionalism usually hold themselves to a certain standard and make themselves available – no matter what the questions might be.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn’t pay much attention to any extracurriculars in the ninth. And he made it clear that he wouldn’t ask Romo to tone anything down.
“That’s how he pitches, with a lot of passion and sheer emotion,” Bochy said. “If we thought it was out of control, we’d say something. But I don’t want to change the guy. He goes out there with a lot of fire and he competes with anybody.
“He’s a hitter away from getting out of that. So I don’t want to take away anything, if it’s under control. The guys who play with emotion … that’s who they are.”
Romo might have taken the loss, but it doesn’t take much level-headed analysis to know that he wasn’t the reason they lost the game. He’s not the reason they’ve lost their way as a team.
Romo is 20 for 23 in save chances and almost certainly is headed to the All-Star game as a replacement for one of the three NL pitchers scheduled to start on Sunday. He’s been as steady as ever. The Giants are 31-1 in games when they lead after eight innings.
The bigger issue is that the Giants are 4 for 54 (.074) with runners in scoring position over their last 10 games. Although they get a note from their parents when facing Kershaw, Hunter Pence is has an 0-for-22 streak going and Pablo Sandoval hasn’t been much better.
Combined, the two middle-of-the-order hitters are checking in at 5 for 74 (.068) with four walks and 19 strikeouts over the last 10 games.
Bochy said he saw better balance and better swings from Sandoval on Sunday. So there’s that. There’s also Chad Gaudin’s seven very tidy innings in his return to the rotation. That might be the best sign to come out of an afternoon that went awry in the ninth.
“The best way we can get out of it is to do it together, as one unit,” Gaudin said. “I think we’re busting our tails and doing all we can to turn it around.”
Even dysfunctional clubhouses can turn things around with one hot series.
Back in 2010, the Giants were in a funk nearly as bad as this current stretch and heading to Colorado when Aubrey Huff made an outlandish suggestion: It might be a good thing that they were facing Ubaldo Jimenez, who was 14-1 with a 1.83 ERA at the time.
The Giants hung seven runs on Jimenez and won that day. Then they went to Milwaukee, took a torch to the Brewers pitching staff and won the NL West on the final day of the regular season.
That team was in fourth place and four games out at the All-Star break. This current club is in fourth, and 6 ½ behind the suddenly hot Arizona Diamondbacks, who have won five consecutive.
Kershaw might have been their Ubaldo.
But the slider stayed up. The opportunity passed them by.
And the rest you could mutter under your breath, with a phone pressed to your ear.