The Giants will need a designated hitter when they open the World Series in Kansas City on Tuesday.
Something you might feel up for, Michael Morse?
“I’m 100 percent,” Morse said late Thursday night. “I feel great.”
His shaggy hair dripping with champagne, a pair of ski goggles propped on his head with a beer can tucked inside the strap in back, Morse was only reaffirming a statement he had made loud and clear with one of the two biggest swings in the Giants’ National League pennant-clinching 6-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park.
Morse’s pinch-hit home run off Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek tied the score in the eighth inning and set up Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off, three-run blast in the bottom of the ninth. While Ishikawa’s homer grabbed the headlines, it could be argued that Morse’s was even more unlikely.
When Morse came up to pinch hit for starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, he was taking just his sixth at-bat in the majors since Aug. 31. He had missed six weeks, including the wild-card game and the National League Division Series, with a strained oblique muscle. The injury, the same one that kept Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina out of the last three games of the NLCS, left the right-handed slugger unable to uncoil his powerful swing without pain in his left side.
The pain finally subsided in time for the Giants to add Morse to their NLCS roster. But he started none of the five games, and had only an infield single in three pinch-hit at-bats entering Thursday. The right-hander Neshek had held right-handed hitters to a feeble .236 slugging percentage during the regular season with his funky side-arm delivery.
“I could not pick Neshek up,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said after the game. “I tried everything. I tried starting early, looking in a different spot for the ball. I couldn’t pick him up.”
But on a 1-1 count, Neshek hung a slider up and over the plate, and Morse hammered it into the tunnel beyond the left-field wall, tying the score at 3-3. It was the fifth pinch-hit home run in Giants postseason history, and it was the second pinch homer of Morse’s career.
“It was an incredible at-bat,” Posey said.
Morse raised both hands immediately as he left the batter’s box, and his trip around the bases was punctuated by a series of jumps and screams. He later said of the fans’ reaction at AT&T Park: “I swear I felt the earth shake.”
It was Morse’s first home run in the majors since Aug. 15; his most recent had come in Arizona days before the NLCS, where he played in instructional league games, racing to get his timing back for the series.
“It makes everything worth it,” Morse said. “I always think things happen for a reason, and maybe me getting hurt for a month, going down to instructs, coming here and pinch hitting in a big moment like that – to me, it’s all been worth it.”
Giants head trainer Dave Groeschner said he and his staff never doubted that Morse would be able to help the Giants in October. When Morse returned to the dugout, he found Bumgarner waiting on the top step. It was Bumgarner for whom Morse had pinch hit, and as Morse bounded down the dugout steps, “(Bumgarner) told me, ‘Hey, big fella, I knew you were going to do it.’”
“I had a feeling he was going to do something good,” Bumgarner said. “That was huge for us. It’s so nice having him as a threat coming off the bench, a veteran power hitter, and (I) couldn’t be happier for him.”
That was Morse’s role in the NLCS, but now what about the World Series? Among the Giants’ top power threats, a healthy Morse would seem the logical choice for manager Bruce Bochy to use at designated hitter for Games 1 and 2 at Kauffman Stadium. He showed Thursday night that he can affect a game hitting without having to play defense to stay sharp – and fits the image of a DH better than some of the players the Giants have used in their past two World Series trips.
In five World Series games in American League parks in 2010 and 2012, Bochy used five different players at DH – Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Pablo Sandoval, Hector Sanchez and Ryan Theriot – who combined to go 2-for-19 with one home run, two RBIs and eight strikeouts.
It’s a decision Bochy has a few days to make, and Morse said he’ll be ready for anything.
“Whatever role that I’m in,” Morse said, “I’m going to try to be the best at it.”
For one night, at least, Morse seemed more intent on just soaking in the moment in a soaked Giants’ clubhouse. It is the first World Series for the 32-year-old, 10-year veteran who in his first season in San Francisco helped the team get there with one of the biggest swings of his career.
“Since Day One, we talked about this, and Hunter (Pence) told me to just visualize the celebrations and stuff,” Morse said. “I believed in him, I believed in Bruce Bochy. And it’s incredible.
“This is Giants baseball,” he said laughing. “And, you know, it’s an even year.”