AT&T PARK — For the third time in five years, the San Francisco Giants have won the National League pennant.
How did they do it? Uncharacteristically, with home runs. Three of them, the biggest a three-run monster from Travis Ishikawa off Michael Wacha tied in the bottom of the ninth to give the Giants the 6-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and a trip to the World Series.
Thursday night saw a rematch between aces Madison Bumgarner and Adam Wainwright. The lefty from North Carolina won Game 1 with a seven-inning shutout performance en route to the Giants’ 3-0 win. Wainwright wasn’t himself in Game 1, he went just 4-2/3 innings in the Cards’ loss.
Game 4, in contrast, was all Wainwright. He retired all but six batters in his seven-inning outing. He was back in form, mixing his pitches and concocting lethal strikeouts that nearly diminished the Giants’ offense.
Bumgarner knew what he was up against:
“You know, we knew it was going to be a dogfight tonight. We know what kind of team they have over there and at the same time, we know what kind of team we have.”
Wainwright’s one mistake was an 88-mph cutter over the plate that Joe Panik smashed into the right field stands. Panik’s two-run shot ended the Giants’ five-game streak without a home run; the previous Giants homer was Brandon Belt‘s 18th-inning game-winner in Washington.
Even before the eventual walk-off, Bumgarner was optimistic:
“Before that I don’t think anyone had the feeling that we weren’t going to win.”
Michael Morse, first up in the bottom of the eighth and pinch hitting for Bumgarner, crushed an outside pitch deep to left field to tie up the game at 3-3.
We’ve learned to expect the unexpected with these Giants, and three home runs in a single game — let alone a walk-off home run— was definitely unexpected, though entirely overdue.
“It tells you what kind of team we have … everybody in our lineup, especially in a game like today, is capable of driving the ball out of the park.”
“If there’s an organization I’d want to do it for, it would be this one. You know, just obviously drafting me and sticking with me for so many years and giving me the opportunity to be a part of the 2010 World Series, and obviously having left for a couple years. But to bring me back for that second opportunity, and not only to bring me back, but to call me up…it’s so gratifying.”
The Cardinals lept on Bumgarner early, scoring three runs in four innings, the first from a defensive blooper at the Giants’ expense, for once. A high fly ball from Jon Jay escaped left fielder Travis Ishikawa’s sight, landing just behind him to score Tony Cruz from second for a 1-0 St. Louis lead.
The final two St. Louis runs came after Panik’s groundbreaking homer, when Matt Adams nailed one to right to tie the game back up at 2-2 and backup catcher Tony Cruz smashed one the opposite direction to give the Cardinals the lead back at 3-2.
Bumgarner found his rhythm in the later innings, perhaps woken up by the go-ahead home run from Cruz. His eight-inning performance in Game 1 and steady dominance tonight earned Bumgarner the 2014 NLCS MVP in an on-field post-game presentation.
With the exception of a few new additions and rookies, the 2014 NL champs are comprised of a core group that’s carried over the last championship: Posey, Sandoval, Pence, Bumgarner, Lincecum, to name a few.
Manager Bruce Bochy, the anchor of that group, said having a steady group of players gives them an edge:
“It played such a huge role in this run that we’ve had, and I mean, these guys have been through it. They have been battle-tested and they know how to handle themselves on this type of stage, and then add to that the kids that we brought up, and then Ishikawa … I mean, what a great story.”
The Giants will visit the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 World Series starting Tuesday at 5:07 p.m. PDT.