Travis Ishikawa hit the first homer to end an NL Championship Series, a three-run drive that sent San Francisco to a 6-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 on Thursday night.
These every-other-year Giants will face the Royals in an all wild-card World Series that begins Tuesday night in Kansas City.
A journeyman who began the season with Pittsburgh, Ishikawa connected for the first game-ending home run that sent the Giants into the World Series since perhaps the most famous drive in baseball history — Bobby Thomson’s "Shot Heard `Round the World" in a 1951 playoff.
"It’s gratifying," Ishikawa said. "If there’s an organization I’d want to do it for, it would be this one."
A role player during the Giants’ World Series win in 2010, Ishikawa was with Milwaukee in 2012 when San Francisco won another championship.
Pablo Sandoval singled to start the ninth inning against Michael Wacha, making his first appearance of the postseason for the Cardinals. After an out, Brandon Belt walked to bring up Ishikawa, who drove a 2-0 pitch into the elevated seats in right field to set off an orange towel-waving frenzied celebration.
"These guys have been through it," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "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," Bochy said.
Ishikawa knew right away on his first career postseason homer, raising his right arm into the air as he watched his ball sail into the seats. He emphatically threw his helmet down to the dirt in triumph and joined his jubilant teammates at home plate as fireworks shot off from the center field scoreboard.
Pinch-hitter Michael Morse homered leading off the eighth against Pat Neshek, who replaced Adam Wainwright to start the inning, to tie it 3-all.
Morse — relegated to a reserve role because of a lengthy oblique injury — was batting for Madison Bumgarner, crowned NLCS MVP.
"It’s unbelievable," Morse said. "This team has been on the same page since the beginning."
After taking a 3-1 lead in the series on wild throws the past two days, the Giants used the long ball to advance to their third Series in five years by knocking out the defending NL champions.
Rookie Joe Panik hit a two-run drive in the third inning off Wainwright for the Giants’ first homer in seven games.
"Just a gutty effort through all this and I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. They just don’t stop fighting," Bochy said.
Ishikawa was the Pirates’ opening-day first baseman, but was soon cut. He re-signed with the Giants, his original team, on a minor league deal and went to Triple-A before making it back to the majors. He moved from his natural first base spot to play left field for the injured Morse.
"He signed a minor league contract, he more or less picked us," general manager Brian Sabean said. "I’m not surprised he hit a home run, I’m not. I’m surprised he’s our starting left fielder. That’s amazing to me. That’s the kind of commitment he had to wanting to get on the field."
Ishikawa took a winding journey to his winning home run, too. Earlier in the game, he misplayed a flyball to left field that cost his team a run. He more than made up for it with his final swing.
"I think a lot of us forgot that we had to let him touch home plate," Bumgarner said. "We wanted to run and tackle him around second base. We were excited."
Bumgarner did not allow a hit after Tony Cruz homered to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead with two outs in the fourth, working eight efficient innings. Matt Adams also went deep in the fourth.
Santiago Casilla worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth.
Adams drew a one-out walk and Daniel Descalso entered to pinch run. Randal Grichuk singled and Descalso reached third on Kolten Wong’s grounder.
Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford snagged the chopper that glanced off diving third baseman Sandoval’s glove, then Crawford threw to second for the force.
Cruz walked to load the bases with two outs after consecutive pitches near his head, and Bochy lifted him for Jeremy Affeldt. Pitching for the fourth straight day, the lefty retired pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras on a grounder that Affeldt fielded and sprinted to first.
Affeldt earned the win.
Out to prove himself, Wainwright rediscovered his old postseason rhythm after a couple of rough October outings, and that still wasn’t enough once the bullpen took over with a one-run lead.
Once Wainwright left the game, the Giants grabbed their chance.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny turned to Neshek after Wainwright reached 97 pitches and retired his final 10 batters.
"I was running low on gas," Wainwright said. "I think he made the right call."
For the bottom of the ninth, Matheny made a move that will be second-guessed all offseason. He went with Wacha, the hard-throwing MVP of the 2013 NLCS. But Wacha had missed much of the summer with an injury and last pitched on Sept. 26.
The Giants and Royals have played 12 times since interleague play began, with Kansas City winning nine — including all three this season. Affeldt pitched for the Royals the last time they visited San Francisco — that was in 2005, when Barry Bonds was still the giant name in orange and black.
HOME RUN HEROES
Three players have homered to end an AL Championship Series: Chris Chambliss (1976) and Aaron Boone (2003) did for the New York Yankees, and Magglio Ordonez (2006) for the Detroit Tigers.
Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski (1960) and Toronto’s Joe Carter (1993) are the only players to win the World Series with a home run.