The golden age of San Francisco Giants baseball was already jam-packed with incredible stories. Tonight, somehow, another glorious chapter was added to a rapidly expanding book.
The Giants are going to the World Series for the third time in five years. Surpassing the chills from Game 7 of a soggy NLCS blowout seemed impossible, but a walk-off home run to win the pennant trumps all.
Travis Ishikawa … a role player who was brought back into the fold, a role player who came *this* close to retiring, a role player who started every game at an unfamiliar position, and fielded that position quite well until misjudging a line drive off the bat of Jon Jay … a role player who’s now in the same conversation as Bobby Thomson, Brian Johnson, J.T. Snow and Edgar Renteria.
“Swing, and there’s a drive! Deep into right field, way back there, good-bye! A home run for the game, and for the pennant!”
Jon Miller said it, and we all saw it. 42,000+ fans rocked San Francisco with their cheers, proving once again that the title of “best fans in baseball” isn’t necessarily the property of St. Louis. And Brian Sabean wept.
It was a Godfather kind of moment, for lack of a better description — especially because you don’t normally see two grown men kiss in situations that aren’t depicted in movies about Italian crime syndicates. Sabean is the longest-tenured general manager in baseball. He already has two World Series rings, and was wearing one on his right hand tonight. But this team is different. The tears were genuine, because he believed in this group after a disappointing, lethargic 2013. You could hear that faith get tested in the middle of the season, when he was forced to look to a farm system that was mocked by the experts to help a once-dominant team stay afloat.
No Matt Cain. No Angel Pagan. No Marco Scutaro. Tim Lincecum available in name only. Depth was supposedly the key concern, and Ishikawa kept this run of even year success going.
This team, man.
Home run … oh, crap … home run … oh, crap … home run!
Joe Panik wiped away the pain from that ball that sailed over Ishikawa’s head with a home run that squeezed by the foul pole and into the arcade. It seemed like the Giants were on their way to a pennant.
Adam Wainwright went from making location mistakes to unleashing curveball wizardry on an unsuspecting Giants lineup that didn’t know what to do. They looked assertive in the first few innings against Wainwright, and then it was check-swing central, with first and third base umpires punching guys out left and right.
Madison Bumgarner gave up two home runs in the same inning, almost putting an asterisk on Panik’s shot. “Oh, those Giants. They’re always either taking advantage of fortunate situations or just plain lucky. The ball is flying tonight — that’s the only way these posers would ever go deep.”
Bumgarner threw too many strikes early (yes, there is such a thing), and the Cardinals were aggressive. In the third inning the Cardinals got patient, and in the fourth Matt Adams and Tony Cruz prepared everyone for a trip back to St. Louis. Bumgarner’s breaking pitches weren’t great early, as evidenced by the hits he allowed:
- Jay’s first hit: curveball
- Matt Holliday’s single: slider
- Jay’s double: slider
- Adams’ HR: curveball
- Cruz’s HR: slider
Wainwright and Bumgarner both went back to being aces in the fifth inning. The only difference was that Brandon Belt crushed a line drive right at Kolten Wong, who caught Pablo Sandoval off second base to crush a would-be rally in the fourth inning. Bumgarner’s fourth inning mistakes went over the fence.
In the eighth inning it became a bullpen game (for the Cardinals), and the advantage tilted heavily toward the side of Bruce Bochy.
It appeared — based on TV reports, so that’s shaky ground — that Mike Matheny gave Wainwright one more inning, the seventh. Wainwright was just as good in the seventh as he was in the previous two innings, but maybe he couldn’t put his right elbow through any more. Maybe Matheny was happy to get as much as he did, and it’s not like Pat Neshek is chopped liver.
Enter Michael Morse, who got over his oblique injury at the same time Yadier Molina left this series with one of his own. Morse’s home run on a hanging slider from Neshek looked similar, both in terms of the ball’s trajectory and Morse’s reaction, to the blast he hit in San Diego back in July. This one was a little more important, of course.
So that Santiago Casilla outing … (barf). I’m still not sure how he retired Wong. Walking Matt Adams is one thing. Walking the other guy who homered, Cruz, is quite another. But the Giants wiggled their way out of a bases loaded situation, and Matheny put in poor Michael Wacha.
Probably because Randy Choate threw a ball away to end a game and Trevor Rosenthal looked awful in his lone NLCS appearance … but 20 years ago Wainwright — barking elbow and all — would’ve kept pitching until his arm couldn’t take it or the Giants figured him out. It was the last game of their season!
Bochy is so much better at this than just about everyone in the world. Raise your hand if you thought the Giants were getting this when Sandy Alderson let him interview and sign with the Giants after the 2006 season.
Extra BASGs (under-the-radar heroes edition)
— Pablo Sandoval started the double play that kept the Cardinals off the board in the first inning and went 2-for-4, including a double off Wainwright and the single that started the ninth inning rally.
— Panda also deflected that ball to Brandon Crawford in the ninth … if Crawford’s regular season defense is a B+/A-, his postseason defense is an A/A+.
— Even after two titles, one thing Giants fans love to joke about is how they’re spending about $10 million every year on two lefty relievers. Nobody ever complains about this in the playoffs, though. Interesting how Jeremy Affeldt is suddenly worth it when Oscar Taveras — who’s shown hints already of being an all-time Giant-killer — comes up and hits a comebacker with the bases loaded in the ninth.
— Brandon Belt’s walk in the ninth inning — he’s been a serious dude throughout these playoffs, and he wasn’t giving an inch to Wacha.
— Bumgarner pitched eight innings after looking as shaky as we’ve seen him in a long time in innings three and four. Giving the MVP to Ishikawa would’ve been the best story, but Bumgarner was the team’s best player in this series (as he’s been all season).
— If you missed it, we teamed up with Fresh Brewed Tees on “YES! YES! YES!” and “Champion Blood” t-shirts. The former was definitely heard in the dugout after Morse’s homer. The latter … well, you know.
— This sums up the Morse Era perfectly:
— That was right before the Giants had their first curtain call in months (years?). You knew they were going to get revenge at some point in this series.
— If anyone with a credential reads this (eh, that’s doubtful), eyes will roll. But here’s a little secret: I didn’t get credentialed for this series (or the World Series) because I’m an idiot. I assumed that when I applied for the NLDS, I had also applied for every other postseason series. I’m not sure why I thought this, nor does it matter. To get close to the action, I “bought” seats for Games 3 and 4 with Stubhub credits, and watched Game 5 at home (the credits have run dry). After some time in the seats, and for the first time in two years, the fan buried deep within me rose to the surface. The press box is a great place for any journalism junkie to spend time, but it’s a cynicism chamber. You’re separated from the fans, who become nothing more than props. (“They’re awfully quiet today.”) It’s hammered into your brain that you shouldn’t cheer, and that becomes your life. History is made, and you sit with a straight face and try to encapsulate what happened for those who aren’t under the same restrictions. This blessing is a curse for someone like me, who sits somewhere between mainstream publications and “fan sites” like SB Nation. You can’t exactly cheer and scream for the guys you’re interviewing a few minutes later. But without the opportunity to film the celebration and talk to a bunch of half-drunk players, I was able to watch on TV like I did for 30 years — before BASG, before access, before quieting my fan impulses — and let go again. I’m not going to explode via social media or write up a post full of “I love these guys” stuff — I’m too far gone into the access vortex to be the same person I was as a kid and in my 20s, but let’s just say the response in BASG headquarters from my wife and I wasn’t exactly objective when Ishikawa’s homer bounced off the awning and into the first row.