The San Francisco Giants closed out the 2012 season with a World Series victory, nailed down by their eccentric, bearded closer…Sergio Romo.
Romo went into the 2012 season not as the team’s shut-down, lights-out closer but as the valuable eighth-inning set-up man for the overly eccentric and overly bearded Brian Wilson.
It was apparent during spring training that Wilson just wasn’t right. As a matter of fact, if you go back to the end of the 2011 season, Wilson had been suffering through a sore elbow and had even visited Dr. James Andrews late in the season. By the end of the first week of the 2012 campaign, Wilson was finished for the year with the second Tommy John surgery of his pitching career.
Who would the Giants turn to to get those valuable final three outs of a close game? Many fans were clamoring for Romo to be handed the position, but the Giants brain trust felt that over the course of a full season Romo would wear down.
Whether it was because he had never taken on such a work load previously or because of his slight build, manager Bruce Bochy took a cautious approach with Romo, utilizing a bullpen-by-committee approach for most of the season.
The season hit the crucial final six weeks and Bochy handed the closer role to Romo. To his credit, Romo simply grabbed it and never let go.
He closed every important game down the stretch and was on the mound when the Giants clinched the NL West, when they completed their improbable comeback over the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS and when they completed their equally improbable league pennant-winning series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
And it was Romo who threw the final pitch of the season that Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is still staring at to this day. All the while, Romo’s rock-star status among Giants fans and his exposure nationwide grew.
By the time the confetti had been swept up from the Giants' parade down San Francisco's Market Street, Romo was the toast of the town. Young, popular, outgoing and a two-time World Series champion, Romo seemingly had the world at his fingertips.
But on Jan. 1, 2013, there was news that Romo had been detained by the Las Vegas Police and cited for violating airport rules at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
Could this be a red flag? Is Romo a loose cannon who will find himself facing off-field issues now that he has found fame? Will this incident cause the Giants to turn their attention back to Brian Wilson in the hopes that they can avoid any potential let down caused by Romo’s off-the-field antics?
No, no and no.
Wilson may very well still return to San Francisco for the 2013 season and beyond. There will be many factors that come into play and many scenarios that will have to play out first, but Romo’s isolated New Year’s morning incident will certainly not be one of them.
If Wilson does return to the Giants, how many Giants fans would want him to automatically return to the closer's role? There will first be the issue of his health. I have no doubt that Wilson will return to full health and will be able to pitch at the same caliber that he was pitching at earlier in his career.
In short, Wilson will be capable of closing again, but when? There will be speculation about that from now until he's healthy enough to throw a pitch in a meaningful game. Until that time, it’s foolish to debate whether he should be this team’s closer or not.
Aside from all of that, there is the issue of performance. Which pitcher is better at getting the final three outs? Is it Wilson, who has ice water in his veins and works every single count, allowing baserunners everywhere you look before he magically gets out of the jam through will power and overpowering stuff?
Is it Romo? With his completely unhittable slider and backdoor cut fastball? Romo’s slider is so good that he can tell a hitter he is throwing it and it still can't be hit.
Most Giants fans can answer that question pretty quickly.
In my opinion, Romo will be the closer for the 2013 Giants even if Bochy eases him into the role again like he did last year, preserving his strength for the critical games in September and October.
If Wilson is a Giant in 2013, he may get his chance to close some games just like Jeremy Affeldt will and like Santiago Casilla will and even Javier Lopez will. However, Wilson will not walk in and assume the role of closer simply because Romo had a bad morning on New Year's Day 2013.
That was a mere hiccup in a blossoming career.