SAN FRANCISCO -- Renowned for creating one of baseball's richest October memories with a home run, the Giants lengthened the franchise's list of fall highlights with another soaring long ball.
The Giants reached the World Series for the third time in five years as Travis Ishikawa's three-run homer in Thursday's ninth inning lifted them to a 6-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Ishikawa's drive enabled the Giants to capture the NLCS, 4-1, and advance to a World Series matchup against American League champion Kansas City.
San Francisco won the Fall Classic in 2010 and '12 largely on the strength of its outstanding pitching. But until this year's Series unfolds, the Giants' NL-high 20th pennant will be remembered for Ishikawa's tall ball off St. Louis reliever Michael Wacha, the ninth walk-off hit in postseason history that sent a team to the World Series.
The closest parallel to Ishikawa's homer in franchise history technically wasn't a postseason moment, but it was a pennant-winning one. Many fans who weren't alive on Oct. 3, 1951, know that an indelible memory was created that day when Bobby Thomson hit another three-run ninth-inning homer to top the Brooklyn Dodgers, 5-4, in the finale of a best-of-three regular-season playoff.
Like any aspiring ballplayer, Ishikawa dreamed of emulating such heroics as a youth.
"I had that moment so many times in my backyard," Ishikawa said. "It was so cool to make it real."
Madison Bumgarner, who pitched shutout ball in a Game 1 win and retired 13 straight batters to end his night in Game 5, was named the series' MVP.
HOW THE GIANTS WON
With the score tied, 3-3, Pablo Sandoval drilled a single off Cardinals right-hander Wacha to open the fateful ninth. Brandon Belt drew a one-out walk. Up came Ishikawa, who misjudged Jon Jay's third-inning line drive that fell for a double and gave St. Louis its first run. Ishikawa more than atoned for that misplay by yanking a 2-0 fastball into the right-field seats.
Ishikawa knew he had won the game. He didn't fully realize how emphatically he had done so.
"I thought it was going to be off the wall, so I threw my hands up in the air," Ishikawa said. "I was watching the whole way. I remember hearing the fans getting loud and I'm like, 'If this gets out, it'll be fantastic.' After that I really don't remember much."
For true Giants fans, this one was worth remembering. The likes of Thomson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Mel Ott and Barry Bonds made the franchise synonymous with the home run. Now comes Ishikawa, who has hit 22 homers in 444 regular-season games, adding to that long-ball lore.
"I'm humbled by the experience," Ishikawa said. Referring to the poor route he took toward Jay's hit, Ishikawa added, "I had a rough game going into that at-bat, so it was great just to be able to help this team win."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Morse mashes: Before Ishikawa connected, the Giants doubled their total of two homers in 88 postseason innings entering the game. Michael Morse authored one of the season's most dramatic moments when he led off the eighth inning with a pinch-hit homer off reliever Pat Neshek, erasing a 3-2 deficit. It was a deeply satisfying triumph for Morse, whose left oblique injury limited him to one game in September and pinch-hitting duty in the postseason -- which didn't begin for him until this series, since San Francisco left him off the NL Wild Card Game and NL Division Series rosters.
Anticipating that he would face the sidewinding Neshek, who was warming up in St. Louis' bullpen, Morse rushed to the visitors' indoor batting cage and asked the Giants' batting-practice pitchers to throw sidearm as much as they could manage to simulate what he would encounter.
"He's such a good pitcher," Morse said of Neshek, who had retired 18 consecutive batters. "If there's one guy in that bullpen I didn't want to face this whole series, it was him."
Panik's pop: Earlier, Joe Panik broke the spell that had silenced San Francisco's sluggers, hoisting a two-run homer in the third inning to put the Giants ahead, 2-1. Those were the only runs yielded in seven innings by St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright, who surrendered four hits.
The Giants had scored 12 of 22 runs in their previous six postseason games without benefit of a hit.
"It's just another thing we can do," Morse said. "Everybody in our lineup is capable of driving the ball out of the park."
Defense does it: Sandoval was involved in two plays at third base that helped limit St. Louis' scoring. In the first inning, he leaped high to snare Jhonny Peralta's line drive, then doubled off Jay at second base to rescue Madison Bumgarner, the series' Most Valuable Player.
With runners on first and second and one out in the ninth, Kolten Wong smacked a grounder that Sandoval dove for but only could deflect. Fortunately for the Giants, the ball traveled directly to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who flipped the ball to Panik for a force at second base.
Affeldt helps: The Cardinals proceeded to load the bases with two outs in the ninth against Santiago Casilla, whose pair of walks indicated that he wasn't sharp. In came Jeremy Affeldt to face pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras, who hit a comebacker.
"That's the type of situation where you're glad to have a guy like him come in," catcher Buster Posey said. "To me, he was very calm in a moment where you definitely could let your emotions get the best of you. He was like himself. He made three really good pitches."
"Knowing who we have, I know we put together a winning ballteam. Everybody's got their different opinions on what that might be, but we feel like we have a team that's capable of winning the World Series. That's what we're playing for."
That's what Bumgarner said during Spring Training. Asked after Thursday's victory to reflect on his remark, the left-hander said, "If you don't believe that [you can win the World Series] going into the year, then you're just wasting your time when you go out there. We all believe in ourselves. It's like a family here. We don't get a whole lot of credit -- actually we don't really get any credit -- from the analysts out there. But we have a lot of guys who know how to win and compete."
KEY MANAGERIAL DECISION
Bruce Bochy knew that Morse was the man he wanted at the plate against Neshek in the eighth inning.
"It's a good role," Bochy said. "He's a threat off the bench and it's the perfect time to put him up there, a one-run game."
Then again, it was just Morse's fourth at-bat of this postseason.
"For him to do what he did," Bochy said, "it doesn't get any more clutch than that."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Ishikawa became the first player in an NLCS to hit a walk-off home run to send his team to the World Series. The other three were Detroit's Magglio Ordonez (Game 7, 2006 ALCS), the Yankees' Aaron Boone (Game 7, 2003 ALCS) and the Yanks' Chris Chambliss (Game 5, 1976 ALCS).
• This marked the second time that a walk-off hit won an NLCS for the Giants. The other instance was 2002, when Kenny Lofton singled home David Bell in Game 7 of the NLCS against St. Louis.
• Morse's homer was the fifth pinch-hit clout in Giants postseason history. The most recent one was J.T. Snow's memorable homer in Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS against the Mets; the first was Dusty Rhodes' poke in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against the Indians.