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NLCS #5: Goin’ to Kansas City

NLCS Cardinals Giants BaseballMisdemeanor Row turned into Murderers Row as the Giants stunned the Cardinals 6-3 in Game Five to win the National League pennant. The Giants hadn’t hit a homer since Brandon Belt ended the 18-inning marathon against the Washington Nationals on Oct. 4. The odds were that the Giants would finally break out of the big fly slump, and bettors were likely to put their money on Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence as the primary candidates to lead the way. Nobody put their money on the trio of Travis Ishikawa, Michael Morse and Joe Panik to all go deep together, which made one of the most dramatic wins in franchise history even more incredible.

This is the franchise that owns the most famous home run in baseball, Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning three-run homer against the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds in 1951. Thursday night ended with Ishikawa putting his name high on the list of famous franchise blasts. The night began with Ishikawa possibly putting his name high on the list of franchise goats. The Cardinals John Jay hit a line drive to left in the third that appeared catchable. Ishikawa took a step in, momentarily froze, and then came to the sickening realization that the ball was carrying over his head. Jay had an RBI gift double and the Cardinals had struck first for a 1-0 lead. To the credit of Giants fans, there were gasps but no boos. Most understood that Ishikawa is not a left fielder, but that with Morse limited by an oblique injury. manager Bruce Bochy had taken the risk of weakening left-field defense in the post season with the tradeoff of keeping a potentially threatening bat in the lineup.

Ishikawa was not as forgiving of himself as the fans, and said in a post-game interview that when the Giants trailed 3-2 late in the game, he still felt responsible. As it turned out, redemption was just one swing away. Ishikawa batted in the ninth with the score now tied at 3-3 with one out and Brandon Belt at first and Pablo Sandoval at second. Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha came in with a 2-0 fastball, and Ishikawa crushed it. The crowd that stuck with Ishikawa when things went bad went into full bedlam mode for him as the ball sailed into the arcade. I don’t know if this shot was heard around the world, but San Franciscans within 10 blocks of AT&T must have heard the roar.

Ishikawa’s heroics, of course, never would have happened if not for fellow sluggers Panik and Morse.

In an interview with writer Damon Runyan in 1912, New York Giants .300-hitting second baseman “Laughing” Larry Doyle said, “it was great to be young and a Giant.” The 23-year-old Panic would probably second that motion today. The Cardinals were stung by veteran second baseman Marco Scutaro, when the Giants battled back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat St. Louis in the 2012 NLCS. The position delivered another blow to the Cardinals in the 2014 version when Panic slugged a two-run homer in the third off Adam Wainwright to put the Giants in front 2-1.

Madison Bumgarner kept the Giants in the game despite not having his best stuff which was demonstrated when Matt Adams and Tony Cruz blasted home runs in the fourth for a 3-2 Cardinals lead. The game stayed that way into the bottom of the eighth, but even the most diehard of Giants Nation had to see little hope against reliever Pat Neshek. The combination of a baffling herky-jerky motion and heat had Neshek toying with the Giants in games three and four. It took Neshek just 23 pitchers to dispatch the Giants in two innings without allowing a run or hit. But in the eighth of Game Four, it took just one pitch to pinch-hitter Morse to tie the score. Morse, who has been sidelined with the injury through most of September and during the NLDS, hit a wicked, curving shot into the left-field bleachers. If Ishikawa’s homer was one of the all-time Giants game winners, Morse’s clout will go down in club history as one of the most clutch.

The Giants like to say that a big part of their success comes because everyone has everyone’s back, that a real team effort is about one player picking up another. That was the story of Game Five. Panic picked up Ishikawa after the misplay in left, Morse picked up the whole team’s struggling offense with his homer, and Jeremy Affeldt picked up Santiago Casilla in the ninth when the closer uncharacteristically stumbled. And then in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants left fielder went one better. He smoked a home run for the ages, and with that clout, Ishikawa had picked up Ishikawa.

So now they are goin’ to Kansas City, but don’t expect the Giants to continue to put on a repeat of the 1927 Yankees Murderers Row. No, get ready for three-run balks, bases-clearing wild pitches or whatever crazy way you can fantasize about the Giants scoring runs. What is making the next step even more intriguing is the Royals play a similar game. Oh well, the home runs were fun, but here we go back to Misdemeanor Row. Would the Giants Faithful really want it any other way?

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