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Lowell Cohn: Bullpen, an issue all season, sends Giants down the drain

SAN FRANCISCO - After the Giants season suddenly ended, after they blew a three-run lead to the Cubs in the ninth inning and lost 6-5 and exited the playoffs, Buster Posey walked over to Brandon Belt at Belt's locker in the Giants clubhouse and the two teammates hugged. It was a hug of goodbye. A hug signifying an end of things.

Things end quickly in baseball. And they end cruelly.

General manager Bobby Evans was talking to players, his voice encouraging, thanking them for their hard work, saying he was proud of them, telling them to think about next season. Already looking ahead.

Across the room, Sergio Romo seemed oblivious of it all. He sat at his locker facing the wall. His back to the clubhouse.

He was hitting keys on his phone but didn't seem particularly interested. Filling moments that must have been painful.

He had been part of a crew that failed in the ninth, five relievers who ended up giving the Cubs the lead and the game. Romo had faced one batter, Ben Zobrist, who lined a double down the right-field line that drove in a run. Part of the Giants' general collapse.

Romo put down his phone. From the back, you could see him wipe his hand across his eyes. He became aware of the media behind him. “Oh,” he said, returning to the moment. “What do you need?”

Someone asked what he thought as he jogged to the mound in the ninth.

“Get the job done,” he said, his voice soft. “I got called upon to help. You've got to get outs. I was unable to do that.”

Another reporter asked how he was feeling right then, right there in the silent clubhouse.

“We're more in shock that it happened,” he said, “how it happened, the way it happened. We went in with a decent lead into that ninth and it looked pretty good in our favor to win. Didn't go that way. Definitely a tough way to end what was a very trying seaosn. A lot of ups and, then again, a lot of downs. So a tough way to go out. Season's over.”

Romo was composed and polite. He had been the Giants closer and then he wasn't the Giants closer and then he was the Giants closer.

He was part of the season's ups and downs.

And it's a fact the Giants do not have a closer. This we learned. A team with a standard closer - no one special - wins Game 4. Up three runs in the ninth and a trip to Chicago all booked and the jet getting fueled up. But Romo had pitched two innings the night before, had given up a two-run homer which sent the game into extra innings. And maybe he was too tired for the burden of yet another appearance.

But the Giants had no one else. Certainly not Santiago Casilla. Using him is asking a pyromaniac to put out a fire. Certainly not Jeff Samardzija, whom the Cubs own.

Which means the Giants have a fundamental flaw and, despite their grit and resiliency, their flaw doomed them.

Along with one other flaw.

They are not power hitters and someone needs to address this. Someone needs to play Buster Posey at first base, at least more often. His legs are gone from all that catcher squatting. And power comes from the legs. And 14 homers for him is silly. No Giants player hit as many as 20 homers this season. Just wrong.

Most of the Giants were at their lockers. It was a courtesy to the media, and a show of character. They would stand up for who they are, defend their effort. Make no excuses.

“It's pretty crappy,” Belt said. Which kind of summed things up. “We had a lot of fight in us. They just had a little bit more. We hate for it to end this way, but we gave it all we've got these last couple of games.”

He thought about the Cubs. “I think they're just really really good,” he said with admiration. “They put themselves in a situation to win most games. They weren't ready to quit tonight. They just kept on going.”

Something people used to say about the Giants.

Brandon Crawford was talking right next to Belt. Both standing their ground.

“It happened pretty quick,” Crawford said of the abrupt end to the game. “Got to give them credit. Down three in the ninth inning. That's a tough hole to dig out of and they were able to do it.”

Crawford smiled a sad smile.

“It sucks right now,” he said.

It certainly does. But we can remember good things from this Giants team. And why not? This has been a championship bunch and deserves a respectful elegy.

They played a great first half of the season. They raised expectations around here.

They played poorly in the second half but recovered at the end and wrote an interesting storyline. And made the playoffs and competed hard against the Cubs. Made the Cubs sweat.They did not give into their many limitations and kept coming - for a while. They have grit and courage. And when they lost, they lost with dignity.

This you should know. After every Giants win in AT&T Park, you hear over the sound system Tony Bennett sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Hear him croon, “When I come home to you, San Francisco/Your golden sun will shine for me.”

But when the Giants lose, there are no lyrics about the golden sun or the little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars. The fans scurry toward the exits and Willie Mays Plaza and the Lefty O'Doul Bridge and their lives away from the Giants.

On Tuesday night as the Cubs wildly celebrated on the Giants infield, the ballpark went quiet and Tony didn't sing.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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