After brilliant postseason run, Coke falters in 10th
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ROIT -- Sergio Romo paused in his stance, his knees slightly bent, waiting for Brian O'Nora's strike-three call. When the home-plate umpire delivered, the Giants' closer carried out a series-clinching dance that, by this point, he has perfected.
"They've relied on me and they've had confidence in me all year long to just do what I can do," said Romo, who closed out all three playoff rounds for the Giants, including Sunday night's 4-3 victory in 10 innings in Game 4 of the World Series. "Just be me on the mound. These guys let me be myself. They don't ever hold me back. They give me the confidence that I know I need out there and they know I need. The faith that they have in me, unreal. [I] couldn't let anyone down."
Meanwhile, Tigers southpaw Phil Coke stared on from the home dugout, observing a celebration around the mound that served as his throne throughout the playoffs. Only, he was no part of the festivities, and for that, he said the thoughts streaming through his mind at that moment were not appropriate for most audiences.
"I'm not happy with the way it went," said Coke, who was thrust into a makeshift closer role following Jose Valverde's struggles in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. "The last thing I wanted to see was a "LP" next to my name in the World Series against anybody. I didn't want to hear the words "losing pitcher" next to my name. I poured my heart and soul into everything I am and everything I have into each game, each pitch, and I got beat."
A few moments before Romo penned the final chapter to San Francisco's improbable postseason script, Coke -- Detroit's most reliable reliever within a patchwork October 'pen -- had surrendered the go-ahead run. Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro provided San Francisco with a 4-3 advantage with a softly struck two-out RBI single.
Coke had fanned the first seven batters he faced in the Fall Classic entering that decisive 10th inning on Sunday. He mowed down Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Gregor Blanco in a pristine ninth. Giants designated hitter Ryan Theriot altered all of that when he opened the extra frame with a bloop single to right field. After a sacrifice bunt and strikeout, Theriot crossed the plate when Scutaro poked a fastball for a base knock that dropped in front of Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson.
"They were off the ends of the bat," Coke said. "We were going away and they were able to get enough barrel on the ball to float it over our guys. There's nothing I can do about that. There's nothing the defense can do about that. That was just [really] phenomenal hitting on their part."
That the Giants were able to scratch across a championship-clinching run against Coke might speak more to San Francisco's fortunes at the plate rather than Detroit's shortcomings in the bullpen.
Before his two-inning outing on Sunday, Coke had hurled 8 2/3 scoreless frames during the postseason. Every ounce of reliability Valverde had built up over the last two years, when he logged 84 saves in 89 opportunities, evaporated in Game 1 of the World Series when he submitted his third consecutive rocky appearance. That left manager Jim Leyland with an array of relievers from which to mix and match.
"We have to step up for everyone," Octavio Dotel said. "Sometimes things don't go right for different people, so you have to step up. That's what we did for Valverde. He didn't have his 'A' game, but Coke, [Joaquin] Benoit, myself, [Drew] Smyly, [Rick] Porcello, [Al] Alburquerque -- we stepped up and covered it. That's why we're here."
On Sunday, Leyland turned to the rookie Smyly and journeyman Dotel to bridge the gap to Coke after starter Max Scherzer lasted 6 1/3 frames. The duo performed admirably, keeping the Tigers in a deadlock until the Tigers turned to their postseason stalwart.
"This game is nuts. This game is crazy," Coke said. "It doesn't matter how good of a pitch you make. The dude in the box is just as good, if not better, than you on any given swing. That's just the way it is."