DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera watched strike three sail by, and finally, for the first time in this World Series, a San Francisco Giant did not know what to do. Sergio Romo stood on the mound and thought: Is that it? Is it over? Did we win? Impossible.
Can you fault him? Who can make sense of this? Nine days earlier, the Giants trailed the St. Louis Cardinals three games to one in the National League Championship Series. Who thought they would win seven straight games to sprint away with the championship?
Romo saw everybody running around the field and hugging each other, and pretty soon everything around him signaled a massive celebration. In the clubhouse, the Giants sprayed Mumm sparkling wine (from Napa Valley, of course) on each other, and they hoisted the World Series trophy and wore World Series champion T-shirts, and still, Sergio Romo was not satisfied.
He wanted them to understand what they had done. He wanted them to know what they meant to him.
Romo went face-to-face with second baseman Marco Scutaro, one of the great in-season acquisitions in baseball history, who singled in the winning run in the 10th inning. Three months ago, Scutaro wasn't even a Giant. But by the 10th inning of Game 4 against the Detroit Tigers, Scutaro was an essential bone holding up the whole team. Star Buster Posey, a leader since he was a rookie, said he watched Scutaro step into the batter's box in the 10th and "he just looked so calm and relaxed". Posey had a feeling Scutaro would deliver.
In the clubhouse, Romo told Scutaro: "You have big (bleeping) (Scutaros!)" Then Romo found Hunter Pence, another summer pickup, and said, "The rest of your life, you are a world champion. Eternity, baby."
Eternity? They have been teammates for three months, and now Romo was talking about eternity?
Yes. Perfect. That is the 2012 San Francisco Giants. All around the world, at every level of competition, coaches and players try to figure out how to create a true team -- how to mesh, how to play for each other, to take isolated sets of individual acts and piece them into one. And then a team like these Giants comes along, and it all happens so naturally. Scutaro and Pence arrived and it was like their parts in the play were already written. They just had to read the lines.
"The smile on my face does not mean as much to me as the smile on my teammates' faces," Romo said. "It makes it more special when you are not playing for yourself."
Is this why they won? Well, it had to help, right? Posey walked into the clubhouse, surveyed the chaos of his drenched teammates, and thought: This is an awfully small clubhouse. He had nowhere to go. They were stuck together. They like it that way.
"I think chemistry plays a huge part in this sport because we play so many games," Posey said. And ace Matt Cain said "Guys really had a great feeling of being around each other and had a lot of fun with each other. I think that ended up showing and ended up paying off."
Maybe you believe in this stuff and maybe you don't. Maybe you think Series MVP Pablo Sandoval hit three Game 1 home runs simply because he made three great swings, and that Posey hit a homer in Game 4 ("the feel off the bat, I wasn't sure if it was going to stay fair" he said) simply because he is a great player. You might be right.
But understand: The Giants believe. Cain said he doesn't know how much their closeness contributed the championship. But look: When the Giants needed Barry Zito to set aside six years of criticism and failure, and pitch like an ace again, Zito did it -- twice. Pitching coach Dave Righetti sat with Tim Lincecum in the weight room one day and had a tough talk about yanking Lincecum from the starting rotation. Tim Lincecum! The freak, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, maybe the most recognizable player on the team even today.
"That wasn't the easiest thing," Righetti said, but Lincecum responded by willingly becoming an essential bullpen weapon.
When Righetti worried about the location of Madison Bumgarner's pitches ("I really thought he was going to finish up in the 'pen," Righetti said), Bumgarner recognized if he didn't do it, they would lose. He found a way to hit his spots again.
Individual acts, individual fixes, individual successes. Collectively, it seemed like magic. And so came the time for one final act: Sergio Romo on the mound in the 10th inning, clinging to a 4-3 lead, pitching to the reigning American League Triple Crown winner, facing a genetic mismatch.
Romo and Cabrera were born six weeks apart in 1983. Cabrera was a phenom almost from birth, a stunning natural talent, trained by his parents in Venezuela to be a star. When Cabrera was 16, the Florida Marlins gave him the largest signing bonus for an international player.
Romo grew up in California, the son of a Mexican farm laborer who loved baseball. Sergio was nobody's phenom. When he finished high school, his father suggested he join the Navy. Sergio took the test and was ready to join. He went to Mesa State community college instead. At 24, he was still pitching Single-A ball.
He finally made it to the majors, and when wacky closer Brian Wilson got hurt, Romo became the closer. He cannot believe they asked him to get "those outs, the ones to end all seasons this year. With everything I've been through in my life, just to be here, just to be a part of this, just to be accepted as an equal to my teammates, it definitely means a lot to me."
Romo does not throw typical closer smoke. In the final inning of the season, none of his pitches hit 90 miles per hour. But he throws strikes. To Cabrera, he threw five straight sliders, his signature pitch. Finally he shook off Posey. In the dugout, Righetti wondered if it was a "fake shake," just to rattle Cabrera.
Then Sergio Romo threw an 89-mile-an-hour fastball to the best hitter in baseball. It would be the final pitch of the 2012 season. Strike three. Game over, World Series over, and Romo would later say he felt "blessed ... beyond blessed." It was the culmination of a dream so big, he dared not dream it, back when his father gave him his first glove when he was 2 years old. His father's name is Francisco.