Earlier this week, the Kansas City Royals punched their ticket to the World Series. On Thursday, the San Francisco Giants decided to join them.
The Giants reached the championship series after a 6-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals with some late game heroics by Travis Ishikawa. With a pair of runners on base and one out in the ninth inning, Ishikawa drove a pitch over the wall for a three-run walk-off home run, winning the series for San Francisco, four games to one.
Ishikawa wasn’t the only hero for the Giants, however. With the team trailing 3-2, San Francisco pinch hit for starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner in the eighth inning, sending Michael Morse to the plate. Morse hit a solo home run to tie the game before Ishikawa’s theatrics in the final frame.
San Francisco also got some key help from its bullpen in the top of the ninth after a shaky start. The Cardinals loaded the bases before Jeremy Affeldt came into the game, getting pinch hitter Oscar Taveras to ground out, ending the scoring threat and the inning.
Bumgarner, for his part, was effective. The Giants ace pitched eight strong innings, allowing only three runs on five hits. Two of those hits, however, were home runs in the fourth inning by Matt Adams and Tony Cruz. That gave St. Louis a 3-2 lead and Bumgarner pitched four scoreless innings after that.
With another dominant performance earlier in the series when he threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings, Bumgarner was named the NLCS Most Valuable Player.
In a move that didn’t work out for the Royals earlier this postseason, the Cardinals brought in starting pitcher Michael Wacha into the game in the ninth. Wacha pitched only 1/3 of an inning, allowing two hits, including the dramatic three-run shot. When you add in the fact that reliever Pat Neshak gave up the home run to Morse, St. Louis’ bullpen had a rough night, ruining a solid start by Adam Wainwright. Wainwright struck out seven batters in seven innings, giving up only two runs on the night – one on a solo home run by Joe Panik. After his exit, the Cardinals simply couldn’t hold his lead.
Outside of the fact that Wacha, a starter, was brought in relief, the move was made even more curious by the fact that it was his first postseason appearance for the team this year. Talk about pressure-packed situations – Wacha was thrown directly into one without even getting his feet wet in the playoffs. Granted, he has had success in the postseason, going 4-1 last year with a 2.64 ERA. The spotlight is nothing new to Wacha, even though he’s a relatively young pitcher. Still, it seemed like a tough spot for a player who hadn’t even gotten onto the mound in the playoffs this season.
You can expect that move to be second-guessed to death in the coming days.
The win sets up a matchup between two franchises with very different levels of postseason experience – the Royals, who last reached the playoffs 29 years ago, and the Giants, who have won two of the last four World Series. With each team dominating their League Championship Series games, there’s little doubt that they are the teams playing the best baseball at this stage of the season.
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