Wilson’s 2012 season ended due to an elbow injury after he appeared in just two games (via USA Today). He underwent Tommy John Surgery for the second time in his career in April.
The 30-year-old became the Giants closer in 2008 and emerged as one of the best in the majors. He recorded 41 saves that season and was voted to the All-Star Game.
His success continued over the next three years, and he peaked in 2010 when he led the league with 48 saves. “Fear the Beard” T-shirts and signs became a rallying cry behind San Francisco’s run to its first World Series title since the team moved from New York.
Wilson had six saves in the 2010 playoffs and did not allow a run, while giving up five hits in 11.2 innings. He added 36 more saves in 2011, but his injury earlier this year has opened to door for Romo.
The Giants’ new bearded closer was called up to the majors in 2008, the same season that Wilson took over as the team’s closer. He did not factor much into San Francisco’s plans during his first two years, but he nailed down a role as a setup man during the 2010 season.
He has steadily improved with the Giants and led the team in ERA and WHIP in each of the past two seasons.
After Wilson went down, manager Bruce Bochy started using Santiago Casilla in the final innings, but eventually opted to go with a closer-by-committee approach. It worked extremely well, but in the postseason Romo has earned Bochy’s trust more than any other relief pitcher.
He has a 1.17 ERA and 0.65 WHIP in 7.2 innings pitched, while recording one save in as many opportunities. He is not a flamethrower like Wilson, but he gets by on craft, guile and a nasty slider.
His steady improvement throughout his career has shown that he is deeply committed to the team, and he is humble enough to accept that the Giants may be better off without a primary closer across an entire season.
As Sports Illustrated’s Joe Sheehan notes, “Statheads have been arguing for years that the closer-centric bullpen model is not the optimal way to run a bullpen.” Bochy has proved this with the way he has run the Giants bullpen this year.
But now that the team is in the postseason, it needs one guy who can step onto the mound and get three outs. Romo proved he could do this in the previous two series, and now he faces his toughest test yet.
If he can remain reliable against Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and the rest of the Detroit Tigers terrifying lineup, then he will have shown that he can perform as well as any closer in baseball.
After leading the playoff run, the Giants will not bump him back down the pecking order in favor of Wilson, who is coming off major elbow surgery for the second time in his career.
Whether Bochy opts to move back to a tradition bullpen model or sticks with the committee approach, Romo will remain as the most trusted relief pitcher on the team. As for Wilson, he still has the most glorious beard in baseball.