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Ishikawa’s Walk-Off HR Sends Giants To World Series
Baseball Tonight Spotlight: Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off home run closed out the NLCS against the Cardinals and sent the Giants to the World Series to face the Royals.
SAN FRANCISCO — Once upon a time, there was Bobby Thomson, hitting a home run that floated through the New York sky and never stopped sailing.
He saw a 2-and-0 fastball coming his way in the ninth inning of the most unforgettable at-bat of his life. His wrists cocked. His bat waved. He centered this baseball with the prettiest swing of his career.
And off went that baseball, roaring through the San Francisco night. Into the first row of seats above the Levi’s Landing in right field and into a place in the lore of baseball where only October’s most legendary home runs reside.
Travis Ishikawa and Bobby Thomson. They’re now the answer to an amazing trivia question: Who are the only two men in the past 75 years to hit a walk-off home run that lifted the Giants — of New York or San Francisco — into a World Series? They are Bobby Thomson in 1951 and now Travis Ishikawa. Who knew!
So this was how the 2014 San Francisco Giants finished their improbable journey to their third World Series in five years — with a heart-pounding, come-from-behind, 6-3 walk-off special over the St. Louis Cardinals — on a game-ending, series-ending home run by a man who had never hit a game-ending home run in his major league career.
Wow. That really happened? Heck, even the man who launched this home run wasn’t completely certain, nearly an hour after he hit it.
"I don’t remember going from first to second," this 30-year-old journeyman said.
And that wasn’t all. On his way to third base, he knew something crazy went on. He still wasn’t sure what. But as he bounded toward third, he saw this delirious figure racing toward him. It turned out to be his friend and teammate, Jake Peavy, who admitted later that "I didn’t know he hit it over that big wall out there."
So Peavy tried to throw his arms around Travis Ishikawa, only to hear him say: "Move! I hit it out." But that was about all Ishikawa seemed to know at that point.
"I didn’t know who it was," he said. "I just knew it was somebody. I didn’t know what the rules were. I know the base coaches are not allowed to touch runners when they are trying to score, so I didn’t know if touching him was going to cost me the home run or something. I was just trying to push him out of the way."
OK, well, he accomplished that mission. And then, with Peavy out of his path, it was on to the final 90 feet of the most euphoric trip around the bases this man had ever made.
"I don’t remember touching third," Ishikawa said. "I don’t remember touching home. The last thing I remember — the next thing I remember — was being thrown down with my jersey ripped off. And then, finally, I was just so out of breath from yelling and screaming, and I had to have guys help me stand back up to finish celebrating."
Fortunately, that celebration would last long into this astonishing night because that score on the big scoreboard wasn’t changing, and the San Francisco Giants were heading for an unlikely World Series meeting with their wild-card buddies, the Kansas City Royals. And, once again, the script that would lead the Giants to this place was one nobody saw coming.
They started this day as a team that hadn’t hit a home run in 12 days, six games and 232 plate appearances. So what did they do on this night? They turned into the ’27 Yankees. Hey, of course they did.
"Now what are they gonna say?" Pablo Sandoval said with a laugh. "That we don’t hit home runs? We got three of them, baby."
Yeah, they hit three of them. Of course they did. One by a rookie second baseman (Joe Panik) who was in Triple-A Fresno five months ago. One by a guy who had just come off the disabled list and hadn’t hit a home run in two months (Michael Morse).
And the third by a fellow who was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates in April, didn’t escape the minor leagues until the last week of July and didn’t start a single game in this outfield until Sept. 25. That, of course, would be Ishikawa. Wow. Who writes these scripts?
But while it was Ishikawa’s home run that will live on in the history books, it was actually Morse’s stunning, game-tying pinch homer in the eighth that made the 43,217 occupants of AT&T Park truly think that anything was possible.
When Morse headed for home plate, just moments after the AT&T chorus had finished bellowing "Don’t Stop Believing" loudly enough to rattle windows in Marin County, the Giants were still a run behind, and six outs away from having to climb aboard an airplane to St. Louis they didn’t want to board. And then …
Side-winding reliever Pat Neshek flipped up a slider that hung like the Mona Lisa. Morse squashed it high into the California sky. Then he pumped both arms toward the Big Dipper, watched the second pinch homer of his career plop to earth in the tunnel behind the left-field fence and set off on a fiery home-run trot that was part Wrestlemania, part disco inferno, arms gyrating, hair locks flying, vocal cords shrieking.
Asked to describe what that race around the bases felt like, Morse gulped: "Unbelievable. It was something so incredible, it’s tough for me to put it into words. … What can I say, man? It’s tough for me to hold my emotions back in a big game like that. Big home run. Big situation. It felt awesome."
And in a ballpark packed with people who are always looking for that next transcendent moment to latch onto and shake the night, this was that moment.
Later, Hunter Pence would characterize it this way: "Chaos. Anarchy. Loss of mind. That’s pretty much what it was like."
Yeah, that’s about right. It was the fifth pinch home run in Giants postseason history. It was Morse’s first homer of any kind since Aug. 15. It was his first homer in San Francisco since July 29. It tied this game. And it set the stage for the most unlikely home run hero of them all to take his place in his franchise’s deep treasure trove of amazing moments.
If Travis Ishikawa had just been a man with the thump to hit more than 22 home runs in seven big league seasons, he never would have been let go by six teams in the last 35 months. For that matter, said the general manager who signed him off the scrap heap in April, Brian Sabean, "he’d still be in Pittsburgh."
Instead, Ishikawa seemed destined to be lumped into that dreaded file folder labeled Power-Challenged First Basemen. And so, he bounced from team to team, city to city, until he found himself scuffling in the Pacific Coast League this summer at age 30. "Definitely there’s times where it crosses your mind," he said, "that you wonder if God is continuing to put me through this trial, or if it’s Him telling me that it’s time to hang ’em up and do something else."
Luckily for the Giants, though, he didn’t hang ’em up. He didn’t do something else. And when this team lost both its left fielder (Morse), and its center fielder (Angel Pagan) — in September, there was only one reason it turned its desperate eyes in the direction of Travis Ishikawa:
Because the rules require that somebody has to play left field every game.
NLCS: Giants vs. Cardinals
Complete coverage of the Giants-Cardinals matchup. More »
And that’s how a man who had never started a major league game in the outfield before the last three games of this season became — and remember, this actually happened, in real life — the starting leftfielder for a team about to play in a World Series. But what, when you think about it, is more totally Giants-like than that?
"If you go back through these three [World Series] years, there’s always been a guy who steps up, like he’s been touched," third-base coach/troubador Tim Flannery said. "You know, there’s a line [from a song written by Gregory Page] that I once sang for Andres Torres. It goes: ‘One thing for certain, I promise you will see, it’s never too late, to be the person you were meant to be.’ And I saw that here again tonight with Travis."
The list of men who hit walk-off home runs to clinch a postseason series is just nine names long. Bill Mazeroski is on that list. Joe Carter is on that list. Chris Chambliss, David Ortiz and, yes, Aaron Boone are on that list. And now so is Travis Ishikawa. What a country.
For the last two weeks, his team has been scraping together insane rallies jammed with wild pitches, bases-loaded walks and ground balls that got thrown in 12 different directions. But this was one night, said Gregor Blanco, the man who coined the phrase "Ugly But It Works," when, miraculously, "it wasn’t an ugly one."
Nope. Travis Ishikawa chose this moment in time to propel an enchanted baseball into the San Francisco story books. And it was next stop: World Series USA.
"I don’t know how to explain it, and I don’t know how often it will happen," Flannery said. "But we’ve just got a bunch of guys who have come together. And there’s something magic that happens in this clubhouse."
Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- Senior writer for ESPN.com
- 21 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer
- Author of three baseball books