Magic is a word that gets used and abused on most nights, but not on Thursday night, when Giants left fielder Travis Ishikawa launched a three-run homer of dreams into the right field pavilion of AT&T Park.
When Ishikawa’s blast off St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha landed in a delirious section of orange-clad fans, it was another October moment of magic for a Giants team bound for its third World Series in five years.
It was the ultimate exclamation point on a 6-3 come-from-behind win over the favored St. Louis Cardinals – a win that sealed a four-games-to-one National League Championship Series triumph over a St. Louis club that had been defending league champions.
When the left-handed Ishikawa connected with Wacha’s errant pitch, the sound it made – that glorious crack when the force of a pitch meets the sweet spot of a bat – was all a capacity crowd needed to know.
It was all Ishikawa needed as he instantly thrust his arms in triumph and dejected Cardinals watched glumly as the shimmering arc of a white baseball flew to where no player could catch it.
The contrast in that moment between Cardinals despair and Giants exultation exemplified the glory of a game that’s been battered by bad headlines yet endures in moments like these – moments that will live in the hearts of all who were here to witness.
This gleaming stadium by the bay erupted in unrestrained joy as Ishikawa leaped like a child exhibiting the pure, raw elation of a dream that had come true.
The 31-year-old may never do another thing in his career, but for the rest of his life he will have a spiritual home here. He will be welcomed back. Fans will rise one day as they rose on Thursday to salute him and thank him for the memory he created as fireworks lit the sky and water cannons went off beyond the outfield wall.
That it was Ishikawa, of all people, only added to the legend of October magic for the Giants because the well-traveled journeyman shouldn’t have even been here.
But for injuries to more talented players, Ishikawa, a discarded first baseman, would have been home watching this game on TV. His positional limitations were exposed for all to see in the third inning when he badly misjudged a blast off the bat of Jon Jay, the super-talented Cardinals outfielder.
Jay’s drive sailed over an embarrassed Ishikawa, who chased it in a chastened gallop. You could almost feel his anguish from anywhere in the park. The Cardinals took an instant 1-0 lead, but something interesting happened shortly afterward – something that illustrated how this Giants team worked.
When the team returned to the dugout after the Cardinals had been retired, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval was waiting for Ishikawa at the Giants dugout – offering words of encouragement.
It was a little thing and a big thing.
The Giants are going to their third World Series, much to the surprise of the baseball world, because they are a compilation of players that lift each other to excellence they wouldn’t achieve on their own.
This is what sets them apart from the Giants of old.
Until 2010, when the Giants first shocked the baseball world by winning it all, the Giants had always been a franchise that came close but never won despite marquee stars and big names.
From the first season in San Francisco in 1958 to 2010, the Giants were about individuals: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Bobby Bonds, Gaylord Perry, Jack Clark, Will Clark, Barry Bonds. They were great players, but the Giants never had great teams. They didn’t pitch the way the Giants do now or run the bases or play gritty, fundamental baseball.
On paper and in terms of wins, the 2014 Giants are less talented than the 2012 and 2010 World Series winners. This year’s Giants probably won’t have a player win an individual award. But who cares when you are World Series-bound?
Who cares when Sandoval’s gesture to Ishikawa is a matter of course moment between men who don’t dazzle individually – but excel as a unit?
Every run scored by the Giants on Thursday told a story of how this season was a relay run where one man stumbled but still handed the baton to another. Joe Panik, the rookie second baseman who surprised everyone by plugging a glaring hole in the Giants infield, hit a two-run homer in the third inning – and no one could have predicted months ago that he would even be here, let alone excel.
In the eighth inning, Michael Morse – the free-agent outfielder hobbled by injury since August – hit a momentous solo home run to tie the game at 3.
At that point, this stadium acted as if it knew what would happen in the end – as if more than 40,000 people were channeling the spirit Sandoval showed Ishikawa. They were exhorting and believing as much as they were cheering. You could feel a happy ending coming – maybe even the Cardinals could.
Of course it was Ishikawa coming up with two men on in the ninth. Of course it had come down to this.
“If there is an organization I’d want to do it for, it would be this one,” Ishikawa said afterward.
“... Drafting me and sticking with me for so many years and giving me the opportunity to be part of the 2010 World Series ... But to bring me back for that second opportunity, and not only bring me back, but call me up ... it’s so gratifying.”
That was the word for that sound that came off of Ishikawa’s bat. It was gratifying. He was rewarded, Sandoval was rewarded and an entire fan base was rewarded with for believing with one swing of the bat.
Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.