As Travis Ishikawa walked to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, Giants catcher Buster Posey said he turned to pitcher Madison Bumgarner in the dugout and for a second allowed himself to step back and marvel at the circumstances.
"I said, ‘You know what, as a kid you dream of these moments, having the opportunity to send your team to the World Series,’" Posey said. "I mean, you can’t dream up a moment much better than that.”
As Posey spoke, Champagne soaked his hair and the black T-shirt he wore that read: "We own the pennant." For the third time in five years, the Giants do. Ishikawa hit a three-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to give them a 6-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals and send the Giants into the World Series.
Pablo Sandoval led off the ninth with a single off reliever Michael Wacha, Hunter Pence flew out and Brandon Belt drew a walk. That brought up Ishikawa, who hit Wacha’s 2-0 pitch over the high brick wall in right-center field and had to navigate around teammates trying to hug him before he reached home plate.
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"I was just trying to push people out of the way to make sure I touched all the bases," Ishikawa said. "That’s about all I remember after that.
"I can’t remember anything after it going over the fence."
It was the first time in National League history a player sent his team to the World Series on a walk-off homer. The former Giants draft pick began the season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who released him, and was playing at Triple-A Fresno in midseason. Making his 12th career start in left field Thursday, he had misplayed a line drive that led to St. Louis’ first run. Few people will remember that now.
"It’s all about perseverance, and he didn’t give up," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He said there was a time or two when he thought about it. And I’m sure it’s all worthwhile now."
Nor did the Giants give up, down 3-2 going into the eighth. With sidewinding reliever Pat Neshek in for St. Louis, Bochy sent up Michael Morse to pinch-hit for starter Madison Bumgarner. Morse, who had missed six weeks with an oblique strain and had just six at-bats since August 31, crushed a hanging slider from Neshek over the left-field wall.
It was Morse’s first home run since August 15, and he raised both his fists immediately upon leaving the batter’s box and jump-sprinted around the bases. The Giants said it was the first pinch-hit home run in franchise postseason history, and it fired a jolt of energy through a crowd of 43,217 and the home dugout at AT&T Park.
"I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reaction like that on a non-walk-off," shortstop Brandon Crawford said, grinning. "But we all felt the same way. It was unbelievable."
Morse said that before the at-bat Posey had told him to try to "just touch" a pitch from Neshek. "Yeah," Posey said afterward. "He’s 6-6 and built like a house!"
"I still can’t believe Morse hit that ball out," Posey said. "I could not pick Neshek up. I tried everything. It was an incredible at-bat."
The elation gave way to tension in the ninth. The Cardinals loaded the bases off Santiago Casilla with two outs. But Bochy summoned Jeremy Affeldt to face pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras, and Taveras hit a comebacker that Affeldt fielded and took to first himself.
"It was just, ‘Please knee,’" Affeldt said, ‘"don’t give out and land three inches short of the bag."
The knee held, and the Giants won on a night their ace Bumgarner pitched eight innings but departed in line for a loss. The Cardinals scored first when Jon Jay hit a slicing liner with two on in the third that carried over Ishikawa’s head for a double. The Giants took the lead back in the bottom of the inning when, with Gregor Blanco on first after a single, Joe Panik hit Adam Wainwright’s 1-0 pitch into the arcade seats in right field.
It was the Giants’ first homer since Game 2 of the NLDS -- 242 plate appearances ago --and the first postseason homer by a Giants rookie since Posey in 2010. But the 2-1 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 hit an 0-1 pitch into the left-field seats.
But Bumgarner allowed nothing more, retiring his final 13 hitters en route to series Most Valuable Player honors. When he left the mound after the eighth, Bumgarner said he had a feeling Morse would pinch-hit for him.
"I had a good feeling about his at-bat," Bumgarner said.
After going six games without a homer, the Giants of course scored all their runs in the NLCS clincher via the long ball. They will now face the Kansas City Royals in the first World Series ever featuring two teams that won fewer than 90 games in a seasoned not shortened by strike or war.
Amid the bubbly spray in the Giants’ clubhouse, with players gathered in a scrum in the middle of the room, calls came Thursday night for 39-year-old Tim Hudson, who is going to his first World Series, to say something.
"I came to San Francisco just for this moment!" Hudson said over the roars of teammates. "I waited 16 years for this!"
He can wait a few days more. Game 1 is Tuesday in Kansas City.