SAN FRANCISCO — It was 63 years ago and a continent away that the Giants, then in New York, won the National League pennant on the strength of Bobby Thomson’s home run. And while that shot might have been heard round the world, as baseball lore persists, the one that Travis Ishikawa hit in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night might have been more remarkable.
Ishikawa’s one-out, line-drive blast into the right-field bleachers of AT&T Park gave the San Francisco Giants a 6-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the best-of-seven league championship series, sending the Giants to their third World Series in the past five seasons.
“I’m sure he’s going to wake up and realize what happened,” Manager Bruce Bochy said.
Ishikawa, 31, nearly retired over the summer, stuck in the grind of the minor leagues. But he was called up by the Giants in July and wiggled his way into the lineup when other players were injured. Bochy only recently positioned Ishikawa, a career first baseman, in left field with a mix of instinct and desperation.
And with two teammates on base in the ninth inning, the scored tied at 3-3, Ishikawa hammered a 2-0 fastball from St. Louis reliever Michael Wacha. He immediately raised his arms, knowing that it was enough to clear the right fielder and drive in the winning run.
“I remember hearing the crowd just going crazy,” Ishikawa said, “and so my thought was, ‘O.K., if this gets out, it’s going to be fantastic.’ ”
The ball barely cleared the right-field wall. It sent fans into a frenzy, fireworks into the air and Giants onto the field. Some nearly interfered with Ishikawa’s trip around the bases as they escorted him through the final two legs of his trot.
“I think a lot of us forgot that we had to let him touch home plate,” pitcher Madison Bumgarner said. “We wanted to run and tackle him around second base.”
The Giants, World Series champions in 2010 and 2012, will face the American League’s Kansas City Royals, who are in the postseason for the first time since their championship season of 1985. The World Series is scheduled to begin Tuesday in Kansas City.
The clinching blast was the third home run of the night by the Giants, who had not hit one in their previous six playoff games. During their power failure, they put themselves on the verge of the pennant with unusual victories in Games 3 and 4 to take a 3-1 series lead.
On Tuesday, they scored the winning run in the 10th inning on a throwing error by St. Louis reliever Randy Choate. On Wednesday, they scored the tying and winning runs in the sixth inning on two ground balls, both handled clumsily by Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams.
St. Louis outhomered San Francisco, 6-0, in the first four games, yet lost three times. The Giants, who entered the postseason as a wild-card team, have befuddled opponents — none more than the Cardinals — with more guile and timeliness than power and pizazz. They have dispensed with all nine playoff foes they have faced since 2010.
“No baseball game’s ever the same,” catcher Buster Posey said in a clubhouse soaked with celebratory beverages. “You come to the ballpark and see something different every day. That’s kind of how all three of these trips have been.”
Thursday’s game featured a rematch of aces. In Game 1 on Saturday in St. Louis, Bumgarner pitched seven and two-thirds scoreless innings, the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright was erratic, and the Giants emerged with a 3-0 victory.
This time, a tightly wound matchup between Bumgarner and Wainwright came undone as soon as they left the game in the late innings. San Francisco’s Michael Morse, pinch-hitting for Bumgarner to start the bottom of the eighth inning, hit a game-tying home run.
With the score 3-3 in the ninth, the Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs against reliever Santiago Casilla. Jeremy Affeldt took the mound, captured a chopper from pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras and ran to first base to get the third out.
That set up the climax. Pablo Sandoval opened the bottom of the ninth with a sharp single off Wacha and was replaced by pinch-runner Joaquin Arias. After Hunter Pence flied out, Brandon Belt walked. Ishikawa came to the plate.
Ishikawa was drafted by the Giants in the 21st round in 2002 and was a bench player on the 2010 World Series team, but he was the opening day first baseman this season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Soon demoted, he was signed to a minor league contract by the Giants. He struggled through much of the summer at Class AAA Fresno. Married with three children, Ishikawa called a friend and cried over the phone, unsure what to do.
“There’s times where it crosses your mind, that you wonder if God is continuing to put me through this trial, or if it’s him telling me that it’s time to hang ’em up and do something else,” he said.
“I just thank them, a first-class organization, for this second opportunity and bringing me up — and I wasn’t even planning on it,” he added.
Fans arrived on a pleasantly mild evening expecting a coronation and the raising of a pennant, and Bumgarner took the mound with the weight of expectation reserved for a dominating staff ace. A 6-foot-5-inch left-hander from North Carolina, his lean face framed in a beard and his dark hair flopping from the back of his cap, Bumgarner was 2-1 with an 0.76 earned run average in three previous playoff games this season, allowing two runs and striking out 23 batters in 232/3 innings.
But Bumgarner was not as sharp as usual at the outset, digging himself out of trouble through several innings. The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the third. After Bumgarner surrendered two walks, Jon Jay doubled over the head of Ishikawa, who misjudged the ball, and Tony Cruz scored.
San Francisco went ahead in the bottom of the third on Joe Panik’s two-out, two-run homer off Wainwright. It was the first home run for the Giants since Game 2 of their division series against Washington, ending a string of 242 homerless plate appearances.
But Adams led off the fourth inning with a home run into the right-field bleachers, hushing the crowd and tying the game, 2-2. Two outs later, Cruz crushed a Bumgarner pitch into the left-field seats, leaving Bumgarner doubled over in frustration.
The 3-2 score held deep into the game as both pitchers settled into a dominating rhythm. In the sixth, Wainwright struck out the side — Posey, Sandoval and Pence, the heart of San Francisco’s lineup. He left after seven innings with a 3-2 lead that did not last.
Bumgarner, later named the most valuable player of the series, departed after a perfect eighth inning. Morse batted for him in the bottom half. He crushed a ball over the left-field wall off reliever Pat Neshek, tying the game.
“I like homers,” Bochy said. “We’ve been looking for them.”
None will be remembered like the one that came next. Ishikawa, his career rescued by the Giants and elevated by Bochy, was 0 for 2 with a walk before he came to the plate in the ninth inning. Bochy did not think seriously of pinch-hitting for him.
“He can do what he did,” Bochy said.
Maybe it was not heard round the world. But it was loud enough to create an echo from 63 years and a continent away.