San Francisco Giants

Giants head to Series

Hunter Pence leads the Giants in cheer during the locker room celebration following Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 in San Francisco, Calif.
Hunter Pence leads the Giants in cheer during the locker room celebration following Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 in San Francisco, Calif. jvillegas@sacbee.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Prior to the start of the National League Championship Series, Giants closer Santiago Casilla was answering reporters’ questions at his locker when he posed one of his own.

“We win this year -- you believe that?” Casilla said, indicating he was talking not about this series, but the World Series. “I believe we will win. The people we have in here, they want to win. I think when you believe, everyone wants to do it like this, then we win.”

The Giants, who scratched their way into the playoffs as the wild card and clawed past the N.L.-best Washington Nationals in the division series, moved one step closer to that goal Thursday. They walked off against the St. Louis Cardinals on Travis Ishikawa’s three-run home run to win, 6-3, clinching the NLCS in five games and capturing their third National League pennant in five years.

With two on and one out, Ishikawa hammered Michael Wacha’s 2-0 pitch just over the high brick wall in right-center field to bring the Giants sprinting out of their dugout to mob him at home plate. Pitcher Jake Peavy didn’t wait that long -- he ran to Ishikawa between second and third base and wrapped the left fielder in a hug.

“Left fielder” is a relative term. Ishikawa, who was a Pittsburgh Pirate when the season began and playing at Triple-A Fresno in midseason, was making his 12th career start in left in Game 5. Earlier, he had misplayed a line drive that led to the Cardinals’ first run. Likely nobody will remember that now.

The Giants, who hadn’t hit a home run in six games entering Thursday and had made a habit of unorthodox rallies, of course scored all their runs on three homers in the NLCS clincher. Joe Panik hit a two-run shot off Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright in the third inning. Michael Morse, in his sixth at-bat since August 31 after missing so much time with a strained oblique, erased a 3-2 deficit with a dramatic pinch-hit home run against Pat Neshek in the eighth.

No swing was bigger, though, than that of Ishikawa. It sent the Giants into the World Series for the third time in five seasons and a crowd of 43,217 into a frenzy. This year’s Series will be a matchup of Wild Cards. The Giants face the Kansas City Royals, with Game 1 scheduled for Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium.

The Giants had trailed 3-2 since the fourth inning when Morse came to the plate as a pinch-hitter leading off the eighth. St. Louis replaced starter Adam Wainright, who had retired his final 11 batters, with reliever Pat Neshek. Morse, in just his fourth at-bat of the postseason, got a 1-1 slider from Neshek and crushed it over the left-field wall.

Morse raised both fists almost immediately as he left the batter’s box and jump-sprinted his way around the bases. It was Morse’s sixth at-bat since August 31 due to an oblique strain. The Giants announced it was the first pinch-hit home run in franchise postseason history. It was Morse’s first home run since August 15.

It took Madison Bumgarner off the hook for a loss, after the Giants left-hander pitched eight innings and retired his last 13 hitters but departed with a deficit thanks to two solo home runs surrendered in the fourth. Santiago Casilla entered for the ninth and retired Jhonny Peralta on a groundout before things got hairy.

Casilla walked Matt Adams, Randal Grichuk singled and Kolten Wong’s sharp grounder to the left side kicked off a diving Pablo Sandoval to Brandon Crawford, who athletically threw to second base for an out. Casilla walked Tony Cruz to load the bases, but Jeremy Affeldt retired pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras on a comebacker to preserve the tie.

Bumgarner threw 18 of his first 20 pitches for strikes, but his two scoreless innings partly masked the fact the Cardinals had hit the ball hard in. Jon Jay and Matt Holliday both singled with one out before Jhonny Peralta smoked a liner to Pablo Sandoval, who caught it and doubled Jay off second base.

Jay atoned in the third inning. With two runners on thanks to Bumgarner walks, Jay hit a slicing line drive to left field that carried over the head of Travis Ishikawa for a double. Ishikawa, making his 12th career start in left, appeared to break sideways instead of back on the ball, and Tony Cruz scored from second base.

The Giants also broke through against Wainwright in the third. Gregor Blanco lined a single to right-center and second baseman Joe Panik hit Wainwright’s 1-0 pitch into the arcade seats just inside the right-field foul pole for the Giants’ first home run since Brandon Belt’s game-winner in Game 2 of the NLDS -- a span of 242 plate appearances.

Panik, who had one home run for the Giants in 269 regular-season at-bats, became the seventh rookie in franchise history to homer in the postseason and the first since Buster Posey in 2010. But the lead was short-lived. Matt Adams led off the fourth by yanking a Bumgarner curveball over the right-field wall, and two batters later catcher Tony Cruz crushed an 0-1 pitch into the left-field seats.

Adams’ was the first homer Bumgarner had allowed to a left-handed hitter since April. Cruz’s was the 12th solo homer given up by Giants pitching this postseason. The Giants put Wainwright on the ropes again in the fourth on a leadoff double by Sandoval and a walk to Hunter Pence, but Sandoval was doubled off of second base on a Brandon Belt lineout, and Wainwright struck out Brandon Crawford to end the inning.

That began a stretch of six strikeouts in nine for Wainwright, who set the heart of the Giants’ lineup down swinging in the sixth all on two-strike curveballs. Pitching in a do-or-die situation, the Cardinals’ ace effectively mixed the speed of his delivery as well as his pitches, keeping the Giants’ hitters off-balance and retiring 11 in a row before he turned things over to the bullpen in the eighth.

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