Published October 26, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO – There's a bearded and boisterous reliever pulling pranks in the dugout and closing out games for the San Francisco Giants in the World Series again.
No, it's not Brian Wilson — though it might be hard to tell.
Sergio Romo pitched a perfect ninth inning for his first World Series save Thursday night, stranding Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera — the potential tying run — on deck to finish off San Francisco's 2-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers in Game 2.
The sold-out crowd of 42,982 cheered Romo's every gyration.
"You don't feel alone out there. I'm 5-10. I don't feel 5-10 out there," said Romo, who helped the Giants take a 2-0 Series lead. "I feel 6-10. I feel much bigger. I feel important. I feel like my teammates legitimately feel like I'm somebody."
So does an entire city.
On the Fox broadcast earlier in the game, Romo teased teammates, popping up behind them for all the television cameras to catch — photobombing. The jokes helped him become a worldwide trend on Twitter and showed that Wilson, out since April recovering from elbow ligament replacement surgery, might not be the only San Francisco closer with some personality.
"He's a little different than me," laid-back lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt said of Romo. "And it works for him."
For all his antics, Romo looks totally in control in the ninth.
Romo, a self-described "fan for the first five innings," had the look in his eye as soon as he ran out to the bullpen in third-base foul territory to roaring cheers from the crowd. He got Quintin Berry to fly to left and struck out Austin Jackson swinging on 79 mph slider that energized the orange-and-black faithful even more.
The right-hander capped his 11-pitch inning by forcing Omar Infante to pop up to first. With the ball still in the air, Romo punched his glove and jumped, then hugged catcher Buster Posey in a rather casual celebration by his standards.
"It's just a way to show personality and just kind of show who I am," Romo said. "And I appreciate that opportunity to do so. All in all, it's just fun to be on this stage and do so."
PANDAMONIUM: Pablo Sandoval had more than 300 text messages on his phone when he woke up Thursday morning. Players from around major league baseball, including the rival Dodgers' Matt Kemp, acknowledged his accomplishment on social media. Even Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tweeted in Spanish, "There goes the third! Pablo makes history!"
Sandoval's three World Series swings truly were heard around the globe.
A day after joining Babe Ruth (who did it twice), Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only players to hit three home runs in a single World Series game, Sandoval soaked in the moment before Game 2. He said he was overwhelmed by the reaction his long balls created from San Francisco to the East Coast to Venezuela and beyond.
"I still can't believe it," Sandoval said. "In the morning when I wake up, all the stuff, my friends keep texting me. But, you know, you have to realize what's going on right now in your life, so you have to keep your head up and keep focused."
The Kung Fu Panda's pops highlighted his remarkable turnaround.
The portly third baseman was benched during San Francisco's 2010 World Series championship run. His production and confidence went down, and his went weight up. Even Giants general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy basically told Sandoval to shape up — or he might be out.
So Sandoval spent that winter running up desert hills in Arizona. He has made the All-Star team the last two season — starting for the first time this July — although his weight remains a testy topic even now, with more questions typically surfacing anytime he slumps.
"Right now we like where he's at," Bochy said, drawing laughs.
Pablo's brother, mentor and workout partner, Mike, was all smiles in AT&T Park's tunnel after Sandoval's homers. Sandoval connected twice against Detroit ace Justin Verlander and once off Al Alburquerque to power the Giants past the Tigers 8-3 in Wednesday night's opener.
"I've always been proud of him," Mike said. "I haven't seen him have a big moment like this. This one is really special. It's a blessing and a dream come true."
"Wow! That's all I can say," tweeted Kemp, who used the hash tag "panda." Even Sandoval's fellow Venezuelan and former Giants infielder Omar Vizquel was in disbelief watching the third baseman's homers as a fan in the ballpark.
"Magnifico!" Vizquel said. "What did Pablo eat today? My God."
DESIGNATED PITCHER: Giants manager Bruce Bochy has been contemplating who to use as his designated hitter when the World Series shifts to Detroit for Game 3 on Saturday night — a pitcher has not been among them.
Maybe one should.
Entering Game 2 on Thursday night, San Francisco is the first team to have a pitcher with an RBI in four consecutive games in the same postseason. Barry Zito, who batted .075 with only two RBIs all season, has a pair during the current streak — including an opposite-field RBI single to left off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning of Game 1.
"It's been huge," Bochy said. "Pitchers can just help themselves in different ways, whether it's hold runners, fielding their position or find a way to get a bunt down or even drive in a run. I mean, they're part of the offense, too."
Bochy has been leaning toward backup catcher Hector Sanchez to DH for Game 3. He already has said he plans to have All-Star Buster Posey catch every game.
Bochy could also have Pablo Sandoval DH and shift slick-fielding Joaquin Arias to third. Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot are also options to DH.
Since interleague play began in 1997, the American League has a 2,081-1,883 record against the NL in the regular season. The last time the NL won the season series was in 2003. The AL is 8-7 in the World Series during that same span.
Through Game 1, the NL is 24-19 in its home parks during the World Series since 1997. The AL is 27-11 in its home park in the Series during that time.
Detroit has had to put designated hitter Delmon Young in left field in San Francisco. Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry split time in left most of the season.
"I think it's different for your pitcher not only in that he's pitching a game, but now that those moments that he takes underneath to sit and relax between innings, now he's hitting," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
REFLECTING ON THE '62 SERIES: People ask Willie McCovey almost daily about the 1962 World Series the Giants lost in seven games to the New York Yankees. This week, the Hall of Famer has been the one reflecting on that heartbreaker.
Fifty years since San Francisco lost to the New York Yankees, McCovey admits he still thinks about the way it ended often. The Giants lost 1-0 in Game 7 when McCovey lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson with runners on second and third for the final out.
"I think about the line drive, yes," said McCovey, now 74 years old. "Can't get away from it."
Two years ago, when the Giants won the franchise's first World Series since moving from New York in 1958, it helped eased the pain for players such as McCovey, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays and Felipe Alou. Seeing San Francisco back in the Fall Classic again has brought those smiles back to McCovey's face even more.
"We're kind of getting spoiled," he said. "This is two in three years. People don't realize how hard it is to get here. We've been pretty lucky."
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this story.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP