Romo wins biggest at-bat of Game 5, sends Giants to NLCS

by | Baseball Blogger
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Buster Posey's grand slam is just the third in Giants postseason history. (US Presswire)  
Buster Posey's grand slam is just the third in Giants postseason history. (US Presswire)  

CINCINNATI -- The television cameras focused on Hunter Pence's pregame antics -- a kind of huddled, football-like speech that his teammates have given an almost mythic quality -- but there's another part of the speech other than the jumping and hooting and hollering.

It was a simple sentiment that Pence expressed to his teammates before Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Reds, and it has stuck -- "I want to play with you again tomorrow."

Pence told his teammates that and they've taken the ball from there. When Sergio Romo was battling Jay Bruce with two on a holding a two-run lead in the ninth inning of Thursday's 6-4 victory over the Reds, he thought back to that one, simple sentiment.

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Romo wanted another day, another game with these Giants.

"This means a lot to me, a lot to me that they count on me, they ask me to do that," Romo said with tears of emotion, not from the stinging of champagne, in his eyes. "You look at my teammates, their will to fight, their will to survive, their will to be something, do something big. It's easy to be emotional about things like this. Those guys, they deserve it and I'm just really glad that I'm able to tag along."

He did more than tag along, of course. While Romo did allow a run on Ryan Ludwick's RBI single, he followed that by winning the biggest at-bat of the game, getting Jay Bruce in 12 pitches. Bruce Bochy had called on him an inning earlier, as the Reds had put the tying run at the plate for the third straight inning. In the eighth, he came in to face pinch hitter Dioner Navarro with two on and two out.

Navarro hit a soft liner into center, but Angel Pagan made a diving catch, preserving the Giants lead for another inning.

"I knew not to play too deep. Dioner Navarro is not a home run hitter, so I just positioned myself shallow," Pagan said. "When he hit that ball, I gave myself an opportunity to dive for it, because you don't want it going past you with runners on base, they can tie it. It was just perfect."

And the only thing that wasn't perfect was that his screaming from making the play and celebrating the end of another threat killed his voice. Pagan, like so many of his teammates on the day, gave the Giants a chance to play another day.

First it was Matt Cain, who weathered a first-inning storm, striking out Ryan Ludwick and Bruce while stranding two runners to end the threat.

Then it was Gregor Blanco in the fourth, singling, setting up shortstop Brandon Crawford -- a player who was 0 for 8 before facing Mat Latos in the fifth. His triple put the first run on the board and helped set up the team's six-run rally, which ended with Buster Posey's grand slam.

While Posey's bat helped the team in the fifth, he threw out Bruce on a double steal for a big strike-out, throw-out double play in the sixth, before reliever George Kontos got one out in his fourth appearance of the five-game series.

Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt got Ryan Ludwick to strike out with two on in the seventh and left-hander Javier Lopez then got Jay Bruce before being relieved. Crawford kept another run off the board with a diving catch of Hanigan's liner in the eighth.

And then, in the end, it was Romo and the at-bat with Bruce. Although it seemed just about every member of the team had a hand in the victory -- Posey's fireworks and Cain's start notwithstanding -- it could have all been erased when Bruce came to the plate as the potential winning run with just one out. Two years prior, Bruce had sent the Reds to their first playoff appearance in 15 years with a walk-off homer. The Cincinnati crowd, which had kept hope alive through failed attempts at tying the game in the sixth, seventh and eighth, erupted as the two faced off in what would be the defining moment of the game.

"It's one of the things that you'll remember for the rest of your life," Affeldt said.

The first pitch, an 87-mph fastball, was likely Bruce's best chance to drive a ball and be the hero. He swung at it, and fouled it straight back. It was the first of what would be eight foul balls in the at-bat and one of just two that were in the strike zone. The ninth and 11th pitches he saw, he took for balls, before hitting Romo's 12th pitch, a slider (the fifth of the at-bat), into shallow left, an easy play for Xavier Nady.

"I just wanted to get something up out over the plate, something I can handle. He knows what I'm trying to do and I know what he's trying to do," Bruce said. "It's a game of cat and mouse and, you know, everyone calls it a good at-bat, I call it a long one. Good at-bats end differently than that."

Romo said he could only celebrate with a fist pump, before worrying about getting Scott Rolen, which he did on five pitches. After that, he could reflect on getting Bruce in the game's biggest spot.

"I knew he had the same mindset I had: 'This guy's not going to beat me. I'm going to get him.' That's what I was thinking about," Romo said. "Those guys are solid, they're an amazing team and they wanted it too. The thing is, you look at the rest of my teammates and how happy they are, they wanted it just that much more. I couldn't let them down. I was just thinking about my teammates."

Those teammates mobbed him and later doused him with beer and champagne and ice water. It was an unlikely scene, the first time in the wild-card era that a National League team had won a Division Series after being down 0-2, the eighth team overall to do it and the first team to drop the first two games at home in a 2-3 series and sweep the three-game road series.

But none of that history mattered. To Romo, to Pence, to Pagan, to a man, they just wanted to be teammates again tomorrow.

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