For going only five games, it was one heck of a series. Five key moments from the San Francisco Giants' 6-3 series-clinching win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series:
1. Travis Ishikawa sends the Giants to the World Series.
— MLB Fan Cave (@MLBFanCave) October 17, 2014
Baseball, greatest sport on earth!!! #NationalPastime ⚾️⚾️⚾️
I know Cardinals fans generally are unhappy with Matheny anyway. But what possible explanation is there for that?
— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) October 17, 2014
Always a Cardinal pic.twitter.com/jKVo85j7d9
— Andy Cohen (@Andy) October 17, 2014
You could spend two thousand words dissecting Cardinals manager Mike Matheny's decision to bring in Michael Wacha, a guy who hadn't pitched in three weeks and had made just a few shaky outings since coming back from a midseason shoulder injury, with the Cardinals' season on the line.
Foremost, give credit to Ishikawa for a great at-bat. After Pablo Sandoval singled and then Brandon Belt drew a four-pitch walk with one out, it would have been easy and perhaps wise for Ishikawa to take a 2-0 pitch. Instead, he sat fastball and drilled a screaming line drive over the brick wall in right field, sending his teammates climbing over the dugout railing for that awesome home-plate celebration and the home fans into a loud, joyous frenzy.
Anyway, Bruce Bochy was one step ahead of Matheny in the ninth. When Matheny pinch-hit Oscar Taveras for Peter Bourjos with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, Bochy had the guts to take out closer Santiago Casilla -- who hadn't given up a run in a month -- and bring in Jeremy Affeldt for the lefty-lefty matchup.
With relievers warming up in the bullpen in the bottom of the inning, Matheny could have brought in Randy Choate to face Belt. With Ishikawa up, he couldn't bring in Choate because he knew Bochy would have countered with Juan Perez. Apparently, using Trevor Rosenthal never crossed his mind. Or maybe it should have.
But what a moment. Ishikawa became just the fourth player to hit a walk-off home run to send his team to the World Series, following Chris Chambliss (1976 Yankees), Aaron Boone (2003 Yankees) and Magglio Ordonez (2006 Tigers).
2. Michael Morse goes boom.
— #OctoberTogether (@SFGiants) October 17, 2014
Ready for a HOT TAKE? Sports are fun. pic.twitter.com/1nwWWLJaCa
— DJ Gallo (@DJGalloEtc) October 17, 2014
Good for Mikey Mo. Bochy fires his RHH power-hitting bullet against Neshek with no one on and it works like that. Amazing.
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) October 17, 2014
Morse missed nearly all of September and the division series with an oblique injury, losing his left-field job to Travis Ishikawa even though he's back on the roster for this series. He hadn't homered since Aug. 15. Baseball.
Another bullpen move by Mike Matheny backfired. Adam Wainwright had plowed through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings -- nine up, nine down. He had thrown 97 pitches, but with a pinch-hitter for Madison Bumgarner and then the top of the order due up, it made sense to go to the bullpen. Neshek just threw a terrible pitch, a flat 1-1 slider over the plate that Morse drilled into the left-field corner and waved fair, Carlton Fisk-style.
3. Wainwright strikes out the side in the sixth.
— MLB Fan Cave (@MLBFanCave) October 17, 2014
In the first four innings, Adam Wainwright generated four missed swings. In the last two innings, he got seven.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 17, 2014
Nice reminder that a game doesn't have to be weird to be really good. Two masters doing work. Fun stuff.
— Matthew Leach (@MatthewHLeach) October 17, 2014
Sixth inning, one-run lead, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence up for that all-important third time facing Wainwright. This looked like a potential game- and series-deciding inning, when the Giants could put away the Cardinals for 2014 and starting loaded the clubhouse with champagne and beer.
All three batters went back to the bench, all swinging and missing on curveballs. Early on, it seemed Wainwright was using his curveball more early in the count and then going to his fastball. As Olney tweeted, this led to fewer swings-and-misses, since fastballs are put in play more often than offspeed pitches. Then Wainwright showed why he's Wainwright: He's one of the smartest pitchers in the game. In going through game logs over the season, it's impossible to pick up any kind of consistent pattern to either his percentage of different types of pitches thrown in game. And while his curveball is certainly his favorite wipeout pitch, he doesn't live solely with the curveball with two strikes: He threw it 46 percent of the time in the regular season but also threw his fastball 30 percent and slider 22 percent. Just enough doubt that hitters can't sit on the curve.
But he threw it three times in this inning and got three K's. Then he pitched a one-two-three seventh. He pitched like an ace.
Box of balls they found at the Rockies garage sale seem to be working out just fine.
— Yakyu Night Owl (@YakyuNightOwl) October 17, 2014
That was Tony Cruz's first career home run off a left-handed pitcher.
— stlCupofJoe (@stlCupofJoe) October 17, 2014
One of the inevitable storylines that develop during every postseason is when a starting pitcher throws a good game or two and then everybody starts writing and tweeting and commentating about how clutch he is in the playoffs or that he's a big-game pitcher or just knows how to pitch well in October. Heck, I've written this or suggested it; one reason I picked the Oakland A's to beat the Kansas City Royals in the wild-card game, for example, was that Jon Lester had a history of postseason success, then he gave up six runs (well, his manager also left him in too long).
So that was the story heading into this game. Madison Bumgarner had started three games in this postseason, allowed no runs in two of them and pitched well in the third only to be undone by his own throwing error. Bumgarner had also pitched seven scoreless innings in his World Series start in 2012 and eight scoreless innings in a 2010 World Series start. Thus, Bumgarner is super clutch and all that. But that ignored that he did also have some bad postseason starts on his résumé.
As locked in as he looked in those three other outings, it's difficult for any pitcher to great every time out. Leading 2-1 after Joe Panik's two-run homer in the bottom of third, Bumgarner gave up a home run to Adams on a 1-2 curveball (sound familiar, Dodgers fans?) and then another with two outs to light-hitting backup catcher Tony Cruz, a bad 0-1 slider that he hung out over the plate and Cruz lined out to left.
Give Adams credit: Bumgarner had gone 32 starts without allowing a home run to a left-handed batter (Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies hit the only one off him this season).
5. Jhonny Peralta lines into a 5-4 double play in the first.
I thought Pablo's play on Holliday behind Romo in Game 3 was the biggest he's made as a Giant. Time to revise that list.
— Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) October 17, 2014
If you're going to get to Bumgarner, the first inning is often your best bet. He allowed a .320 average and 5.73 ERA in the first inning during the regular season. Now, some of that is a result of usually facing at least three good hitters, but he also allowed eight home runs in the first inning and no more than three in any other frame.
Anyway, the Cardinals teed up on Bumgarner early on. Matt Carpenter lined out to shortstop. Jon Jay and Matt Holliday reached on hard-hit singles to bring up Peralta, hitting .185 with one RBI in his first eight postseason games. Peralta had grounded into two crucial double plays in Game 4 but this time he drilled a 1-0 fastball that appeared headed into left field ... only to have Pablo Sandoval, continuing to do his best Brooks Robinson impersonation, make a leaping grab (yes, he got a few inches off the ground) and then make a quick throw to second to catch Jay. Huge baserunning mistake there by Jay, even if he took only one step to third. It was one step that led to an inning-ending play and a missed opportunity to take an early lead off Bumgarner.
Turn about is fair play: After Sandoval doubled and Hunter Pence walked with no outs in the fourth, Brandon Belt drilled a liner right to second baseman Kolten Wong and Sandoval made the same mistake as Jay, taking a step to third. If anything, Sandoval's baserunner miscue was worse since it was a low line drive.
Side note: While we've seen some good defensive plays in this series, most notably from Sandoval and Kolten Wong, it has been a series of mistakes, especially in comparison to the crisp baseball the Royals played in the ALCS. (Think of the two dropped fly balls in Game 4, Matt Adams' defensive miscues, missed bunts and wild pitches, and Travis Ishikawa's bad read in the third inning in this game that led to the Cardinals' first run.)