When Sergio Romo sealed his team's World Series victory with a strikeout of Miguel Cabrera, it was hard not to wonder what the hell Cabrera was thinking. On a 2-2 count, he watched an 89-mph fastball sail right over the middle of the plate, his season ending with his bat on his shoulder. Wainwright buckling Beltran this was not, and it didn't seem to make any sense. How could a hitter that good allow his season to end on a pitch that seemingly hittable?
But that strikeout had a lot more to do with Sergio Romo's balls than it did with Miguel Cabrera's timidity. According to PITCHf/x data, Romo had thrown sliders on two-strike counts when facing right-handed hitters 85 percent of the time over the course of the 2012 season. In fact, 75 percent of the pitches that Romo threw to righties all year were sliders. To put that stat in context, Mariano Rivera—who has built a Hall of Fame career on one pitch—throws his cutter to right handed hitters 80 percent of the time.
Romo throws his slider so much because it is a very effective pitch; his fastball is not. The average velocity of Romo's fastball is a little over 88 mph, and it was swung at and missed only 3.27 percent of the time this season. In other words, it's not the kind of pitch you'd expect a guy to make when he's facing the opposing team's most dangerous hitter in a one-run, extra-innings, potentially World Series-clinching game.
And yet there it was, after five consecutive sliders: a meatball floating right over the heart of the plate. It was the kind of pitch that Miguel Cabrera was born to deposit into the left-field bleachers, and yet all he could do was watch it go by, because it was the last thing he expected to see.