Well, that happened. The Giants are World Champions for the second time in three years. After the initial euphoria wore off (only to be replaced by the secondary euphoria) I thought back to that final pitch. Sergio Romo threw an 89 mph fastball down the middle to perhaps the best hitter on the face of the earth, and froze him solid. Game over, season over, here comes the champagne. It was an incredible gutsy pitch to throw in that situation, and I thought to myself, I wonder if he’s ever done that before.
The scouting report on Romo is that he will pound right-handed batters away with sliders, and throw lefties his tailing fastball away. To either handed batter, his plan appears to be to stay away. It is interesting to note that the strategy works, and Romo actually displays a slight reverse platoon split over his career: LHB have a career .237 wOBA, while RHB have a .241 wOBA. Anyway, against righties this year Romo threw 76% sliders and 18% fastballs, while against lefties he threw 36% fastballs, 32% sinkers, and only 24% sliders.
In the at bat against Cabrera, Romo started off by the book. He threw five consecutive sliders, all away. The first one was the only one actually in the strike zone, according to Brooks Baseball’s Pitch F/x tool, and Cabrera swung at the third and fifth ones, fouling off the fifth pitch of the at bat. Then came a doozy. Romo attacked Cabrera with an 89 mph fastball, over the outer half of the plate, roughly belt high. It was the perfect pitch, the pitch Cabrera wasn’t expecting at all, it froze him and that was it.
I wanted to know if Romo had thrown that pitch in that situation at any other point this season. Here was the situation I was looking for: final batter of the game, batter had to be right-handed. Did Romo throw any fastballs to RHB to end a game? Here are literally all the fastballs Romo threw to right-handed batters in the the final at-bats of any game.
Our first fastball comes in the game on July 6th, against the Pirates. Romo pitches the ninth with a 6-5 lead. The final batter of the game is Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen takes a slider for ball one, another slider for strike one, then a fastball for ball two, then grounds out on a slider to end the game.
Next game: August 12th, a 9-6 victory against Colorado. The final batter of the game is Jordan Pacheco. He takes a fastball right over the middle of the plate for a strike before seeing three straight sliders, fouling one off, taking one for a ball, and swinging through the last one to end the game. The first pitch of this at bat is actually very similar to the pitch that Cabrera would strike out on in terms of location.
Next game: August 28th, Giants defeat Astros 3-2. The final batter of the game is Jose Altuve. Altuve takes a fastball low and over the outside of the plate for a strike, then fouls out on a slider down and away. We have another fastball! This one is almost identical to the Cabrera pitch in terms of horizontal location but is about a foot and a half lower in the zone.
The next game is a September 1st tilt against the Cubs, a 5-2 victory for the Giants. The final batter for the Cubs is Starlin Castro. After two sliders inside for strikes one and two, Romo feeds him a fastball high and away that Pitch F/x says is a strike, but which umpire Dan Iassogna calls a ball. Castro then fouls off two more sliders before flying out to left on yet another slider to end the game. The fastball in this at-bat came with two strikes, and should have been called for strike three, but alas it was not. Anyway, this pitch is similar to the Cabrera pitch in terms of situation, if not in location.
Our next qualified scenario is our most interesting so far. On September 7th, Romo pitched an inning and a third to save a 5-2 win against the Dodgers. The final batter was Matt Kemp, who like Cabrera is one of the five or ten best hitters on the planet. Here, Romo changed his typical plan of attack. He started off the at-bat by throwing Kemp an 88-mph fastball over the outer-middle part of the plate, which Kemp took for a strike. The pitch was perhaps six inches lower than the pitch he would throw Cabrera, but otherwise nearly identical. Next to Kemp he threw another fastball, this one in on the hands. Kemp grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
The next game is September 14th against the Diamondbacks. Romo faced John McDonald to end the game. The first pitch of the at-bat is a fastball, thigh high and over the outside of the plate that McDonald took for a ball. He then took a slider on the inner half for a strike before swinging at another slider about a foot off the plate for strike three, game over.
September 21st, the Giants faced the San Diego Padres. Romo came in to pitch the ninth with a 5-1 lead. The final batter of the game would be Jesus Guzman. He started Guzman off with a fastball at the knees, which Guzman fouled off, then threw him four consecutive sliders. The fourth slider was lined to Brandon Crawford to end the game.
The game on September 27th provides us with our first true match. The Giants were playing the Diamondbacks again, and Romo pitched the entire ninth with a 7-3 lead. The Diamondbacks’ last batter was A.J. Pollock. Romo started the at bat with 6 consecutive sliders. With the count full, Romo threw Pollock a fastball that he fouled off. This pitch is remarkably similar to the pitch Romo threw Cabrera. Both pitches are 89-mph fastballs in nearly the exact same location: outer half of the plate, belt-high. Pollock fouled of the pitch so Romo came back with another fastball, this one much higher and more over the plate. Pollock swung through it to end the game.
Three days later, on September 30th, Romo came in to finish another game against the
Diamondbacks Padres. The batter was Carlos Quentin. Romo started Quentin off with a slider that Quentin swung through for a strike. Romo next threw a perfectly-placed fastball on the outside black, taken for a strike. Two sliders later Quentin had struck out and the game was over.
Romo’s last appearance of the regular season came in the October 2nd game against the Dodgers. With a 4-3 lead Romo pitched the ninth. The final batter was Mark Ellis. Romo started him off with a fastball for a ball, then a slider also for a ball. The third pitch was a called strike on a fastball. Then Romo threw Ellis three straight sliders, the third of which Ellis lined to Pagan to end the game.
So in conclusion, did Romo ever throw a fastball like the one he threw to Miguel Cabrera last night? The answer: yes, once, to A.J. Pollock of all people. But it was an exceedingly rare pitch for him to throw, and it caught Cabrera completely off guard, and for good reason. A right-handed batter in that situation should expect to see a steady stream of sliders, and a fastball on a 2-2 count was simply not something he was prepared for. It was an incredibly gutsy decision from Romo, who actually shook Posey off to call for the pitch. It was an amazing, amazing moment in a season chock-full of them.
TL;DNR version: Romo had no business throwing Cabrera that pitch, and Cabrera had no reason to expect it. TGWTWS.