NLCS: Giants Bash Way To NL Pennant
Score: Giants 6 – Cardinals 3
Series: Giants win series 4-1
Game Hero: Travis Ishikawa, 1-3, walk-off, 3R HR
Game Summary: Starved for power for most of the post-season, the San Francisco Giants have had to get creative to score runs. They have scored on two-base wild pitches, two-base throwing errors, infield pop-ups, force outs, sacrifice flies, but until Thursday night, they had yet to score a run in the NLCS via the homerun. That all changed for the Giants in Game 5 of the series, as San Francisco hit three homeruns, leading to all six of their runs in their 6-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Down a run in the bottom of the eighth, the Giants got homeruns from a former starting left-fielder forced into pinch-hitting duties by a late-season oblique injury and a current starting left-fielder who hadn’t played the position in years before the start of the post-season to win the game. It was a fitting ending for a Giants team that seems to find a new hero every time they play in October.
The game featured a rematch of two team aces who battled in Game One of the series: Madison Bumgarner and Adam Wainwright. The Giants won that game, 3-0, as Bumgarner cruised while Wainwright and the Cardinals’ defense struggled. There were questions about Wainwright’s health coming into the game, but he answered those by pitching seven strong innings for St. Louis. For awhile, that looked like it would be enough for the Cardinals to send the series back to St. Louis.
It was clear from the first inning that Bumgarner was not as sharp in Game Five as he had been in Game One. He got out of the first unscathed, but he allowed four line-drives. In the top of the third, Bumgarner ran into trouble with the bottom of the St. Louis order. He walked number eight hitter Tony Cruz to start the inning. After a Wainwright sacrifice bunt, Matt Carpenter drew the second walk of the inning. Jon Jay followed with a line-drive to left that froze Ishikawa and flew over his head for a run-scoring double. It was the first time this post-season that Ishikawa’s lack of experience in left cost the Giants.
St. Louis had an opportunity to tack on more runs with runners at second and third and one-out and Matt Holliday coming to the plate. Holliday hit a soft flyball to center. The Cardinals chose not to challenge Gregor Blanco’s arm. With first base open, Bumgarner elected to pitch to the right-handed hitting Jhonny Peralta rather than walk him to get to the left-hander Matt Adams. The strategy worked, as Peralta lined out to end the inning.
The Giants came storming back in the bottom of the third. After two quick outs, Wainwright allowed a single to Blanco. Rookie second baseman Joe Panik drove a 1-0 pitch from Wainwright over the wall in right to give the Giants a 2-1 lead. It was the Giants’ first homerun of the NLCS and their first since the 18th inning of Game Two of the NLDS.
San Francisco’s lead was short-lived. Adams led-off against Bumgarner with a homerun to right-field. It was Adams’ first hit against Bumgarner and his third homer of the post-season. Two of those homers have come against two of the best left-handers in baseball (Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw). Adams hit only three homeruns against left-handers all season.
The Cardinals weren’t done playing long ball. Bumgarner retired the next two batters after the Adams’ blast, but Cruz connected for a solo homerun on an 0-1 pitch to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. This was Cruz’s first start of the series.
The game remained 3-2 until the eighth. Wainwright worked around a lead-off double in the top of the fourth and retired 10 in a row before departing after the seventh inning. Bumgarner didn’t allow another base-runner after the Cruz homerun. He finished the game with eight innings pitched, three runs allowed on five hits and two walks. He struck-out five. Wainwright allowed two runs on four hits and two walks in seven innings. He struck-out seven.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals turned to reliever Pat Neshek, who had a 1.87 ERA during the regular season and came into the game with three scoreless innings in the series. Michael Morse, who had missed the first two rounds of the post-season while recovering from an oblique injury and was limited to pinch-hitting duties in the NLCS, came to the plate to hit for Bumgarner. On a 1-1 pitch from Neshek, Morse blasted a game-tying homerun inside the foul pole in left field. Neshek retired the next three batters, but the damage was done.
The Cardinals had an opportunity to take the lead in the top of the ninth. Giants’ closer Santiago Casilla came in and he had a rare off-night. After retiring Peralta to start the inning, Casilla walked Adams and gave up a single to Randal Grichuk. Kolten Wong followed with a hard groundball to third that glanced off Pablo Sandoval’s glove. The bounce went right to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who made an outstanding play to get the force at second. Cruz then walked to load the bases and that was all for Casilla. Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny called on rookie Oscar Taveras to pinch-hit for Peter Bourjos. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy countered with reliever Jeremy Affeldt for the lefty-lefty match-up. Bochy won that chess move, as Taveras grounded out to Affeldt to end the inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals brought in right-hander Michael Wacha. Wacha was a post-season hero for St. Louis as a rookie last season, but he made only 19 starts this season thanks to a right shoulder injury. He wasn’t sharp enough at the end of the season to be included in the Cardinals’ starting rotation and had yet to appear in a post-season game this October. Working for the first time since September 26th, Wacha looked understandably rusty. He allowed a single to Sandoval to start the inning. After Hunter Pence flew out, Brandon Belt drew a four-pitch walk, bringing Ishikawa to the plate with two-on and one-out. Wacha fell behind Ishikawa, 2-0, and grooved a 96 MPH fastball. Ishikawa turned on it and hit it just above the top of the fence in right for a walk-off, three-run homerun.
Ishikawa’s blast was the first walk-off homerun to end a post-season series since Magglio Ordonez hit a walk-off for the Detroit Tigers to win the AL pennant in 2006. Ishikawa is just the fifth player to hit a walk-off homerun to clinch a pennant (Ordonez, Aaron Boone, Chris Chambliss and Bobby Thomson are the others). Ishikawa’s path to that game-winning at-bat was a wild one. He began the year with Pittsburgh, was cut and signed with the Giants to a minor league deal in late April. Ishikawa appeared in just 47 games for the Giants during the regular season and had only 81 at-bats. Debuting with San Francisco in 2006, Ishikawa won a World Series with the team in 2010, but was let-go after that season and played for Milwaukee, Baltimore, the Yankees and Pittsburgh before returning to San Francisco this year.
The Cardinals head home after a disappointing series that saw them out-homer the Giants, 8-3, but struggles defensively and late-inning bullpen hiccups doomed them. It is the third time in five years that the Cardinals have lost the NLCS to the Giants.
What’s Next: The Giants will head to Kansas City for the start of the World Series, which begins on Tuesday, October 21. The World Series will be the first series since 2002 to feature two Wild Card teams. The Giants were in that series, as well (the Los Angeles Angels beat San Francisco in seven games). Both the Giants and the Royals finished the regular season with fewer than 90 wins. Kansas City and San Francisco have the 212th and 214th lowest winning percentages for World Series teams in history.