San Francisco Giants

Giants’ Romo says he’ll move on quickly from game-winning homer

ST. LOUIS -- Sergio Romo didn’t mince words about the pitch that Kolten Wong hit for a game-winning home run in Game 2 of the N.L. Championship Series on Sunday night.

"Changeup," Romo said, standing by his locker. "Down the middle."

Wong lined it down the right-field line, into the seats in roughly the same area that three other Cardinals players had already reached in their 5-4 win on Sunday.

The Cardinals hit the fewest homers in the National League during the regular season, but have 11 in six playoff games and Sunday hit three off a Giants bullpen that allowed 35 all of the regular season -- sixth-fewest in the majors.

"You can’t take anything away from them," Romo said. "Is it a shock? We tend to not give up home runs, I guess. It is what it is. But for them to come out swinging the way they did, it’s only ups for them."

After being shut down by left-hander Madison Bumgarner in Game 1, the Cardinals in Game 2 exploited their left-handed-hitting matchups against the Giants’ right-handed relievers. Rookie pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras homered off Jean Machi in the seventh and Matt Adams took Hunter Strickland deep in the eighth.

Those came after Matt Carpenter had snapped a scoreless tie with his fourth homer of the playoffs off starter Jake Peavy in the third.

Of the Giants’ 14 runs allowed in these playoffs, eight now have come on solo homers.

"The long ball got us tonight," manager Bruce Bochy said.

It got Romo, who this season allowed a career-high nine home runs, though only two in the second half. Wong jumped on the pitch that Romo spent much of spring training this year honing as another weapon against left-handers, who in 2013 batted nearly 100 points higher against him than right-handers.

"I worked on it so I can better my arsenal, so I can better myself," Romo said on Sunday night. "I felt that was one of the things I needed to work on. Today it just didn’t work.

"Bullpen felt fine, I went in there confident. Did I expect to throw it down the middle? No chance."

Wong was ready for it. The Cardinals’ second baseman doesn’t look like a slugger, but he did hit 12 home runs during the regular season. And as Romo said, "Everyone with a bat is dangerous in this league.

"When you don’t make your pitches, when you don’t execute, things like that happen, and it just happened to be in the playoffs."

Bochy said he didn’t feel the Giants were caught off-guard in the late innings, with his having used left-hander Jeremy Affeldt for two innings in the fifth and sixth and Javier Lopez for two batters in the seventh.

"We used our bullpen pretty much how we wanted," Bochy said.

Bochy said both Machi and Strickland "made a mistake." All together, the mistakes cost the Giants a chance at seizing a 2-0 lead in this series before it heads to San Francisco for Game 3. Still, Bochy said, "We feel good" with a split in St. Louis.

"Definitely positive with a split," Romo said. "Anytime you can win a road game in the playoffs against guys like those guys, it’s definitely big ups for us.

"Does this hurt a little? Of course. We had opportunities to take this game and we fell short. So we come back in Game 3 and play in our park."

Romo tried to maintain a smile as he addressed reporters after the game. He credited the Cardinals with being "tough, a lot like us, never say die."

He was asked how long it would take for him to put this game, his one batter, a changeup down the middle, in the past. His answer:

"It’s already past."

* Busch Staduim got a lift from Wong’s home run, but three innings earlier the stadium had been eerily silent. Cardinals catcher and leader Yadier Molina grounded into a double play in the sixth and didn’t leave the home-plate area, bending over in pain and ultimately leaving the field accompanied by a trainer.

The Cardinals announced Molina has a left oblique strain, and that puts into serious doubt whether Molina will play again in this series. It’s the same injury that sidelined Giants outfielder Michael Morse for the final month of the regular season.

"We don’t know much more about it right now," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after the game. "He’s out getting some looks right now from the doctors, and we’ll know later. But didn’t look real good."

Matheny said the Cardinals will wait until they know the extent of Molina’s injury to decide whether to keep him on the roster for the rest of the NLCS.

"If we have to go short (handed) with an opportunity to have him back, we’d do that," Matheny said. "But we will cross that bridge when we come to it."

The Cardinals did make a move before the series that now looks fortuitous, adding a third catcher in A.J. Pierzynski along with their backup Cruz. Still the loss of Molina would be a serious blow. Before the series, Carpenter was asked about Molina’s importance and said: "I’m sure everybody in the room would like to feel like their role is irreplaceable, but he might be the one guy that that really, truly hits home with.

"If you lose a guy like him, the whole dynamic of this team changes."

Peavy expressed his regret over seeing Molina exit Sunday’s game.

"Anytime Yadier Molina’s not on the field, you would say that was an advantage for the other side," Peavy said. "I don’t know how big of an advantage, but Yadier is as valuable as any player in the National League in my mind. Unfortunate to see him get hurt."

* Briefly, it looked like the Giants were going to pull another win out of their magician’s hat. Trailing by one in the ninth, their game-tying rally against Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal went like this:

Single by rookie pinch-hitter Andrew Susac. Single by little-used outfielder Juan Perez. Walk to rookie Joe Panik. And as Rosenthal’s ball four to Panik bounced in the dirt and away from catcher Tony Cruz, rookie pinch-runner Matt Duffy, already running on the full-count pitch, sprinted home with the tying run.

"I just saw the ball bounce in the dirt and noticed the catcher lost it, and first instinct was kind of to go," said Duffy. "(Third-base coach Tim Flannery) was waving me, too, so I guess just instinct."

Duffy said he saw Cruz look around for the ball, which kicked away toward the third-base dugout, and thought: "If he takes another second to pick it up, I’ll probably take a shot at going." It was Duffy’s second smart read of the inning. After Perez’s single, Gregor Blanco hit a line drive that shortstop Jhonny Peralta snagged on a leap. Peralta looked quickly to second, but Duffy was already heading back into the bag.

"(Adam) Duvall and I were talking about right before how tall Peralta was," Duffy said. "We didn’t notice that before. So right when that ball was hit, my first instinct was it was going to be over his head, but then it kind of clicked that I can’t get doubled up here."

Rosenthal followed his wild pitch by walking Buster Posey, loading the bases with two outs. But Seth Maness entered for St. Louis and got Pablo Sandoval on a comebacker to end the inning and send the game into the bottom of the ninth tied.

* The last at-bat highlighted one issue for the Giants that has been mitigated somewhat by their 5-2 postseason record. The Giants went 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position Sunday night and are batting .197 in those situations in the playoffs.

"These guys battled back a couple of times," Bochy said of his offense in Game 2. "We were just missing a hit to put the game away. We had our chances."

They had chances to put Game 1 out of reach early, too, but went 2-for-11 with RISP. In that game, though, it didn’t cost them, thanks in large part to Bumgarner’s outing. Posey was asked whether a loss in Game 2 just made those numbers more glaring.

"Not to us, I don’t think," Posey said. "I think we all understand the importance of capitalizing when you have the opportunity. But it’s not for lack of effort."

Blanco, who delivered one of the Giants’ timely hits with an RBI single in the seventh, had another explanation. "We’re facing the best teams in baseball right now," he said. "Everybody knows it’s not easy to hit a bases-loaded double in the gap, because we’re facing good pitching."

* Peavy’s four-inning start tied for the second-shortest postseason start of his career, but he said afterward: "There’s not a bad taste in my mouth."

He departed with a 2-0 deficit that could have been worse. After the Cardinals made it 2-0 in the fourth on Randal Grichuk’s single, they still had the bases loaded with one out. Peavy retired opposing starter Lance Lynn on a flyout, and with the Giants bullpen active Bochy left Peavy in to face Carpenter, who had homered off him the inning before.

The move paid off, as Carpenter flew out to Blanco in center field. Peavy said he was well aware of the circumstances and of Javier Lopez being ready in the bullpen.

"Boch showed great confidence in me," Peavy said, "and we were able to get the job done."

* Despite losing a dramatic Game 2, the Giants seemed pleased afterward with earning a split in St. Louis. They now return home for Games 3-5, starting with Tim Hudson vs. John Lackey on Tuesday afternoon at AT&T Park. First pitch is early -- a 1:07 p.m. start.

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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