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Travis Ishikawa isn’t anything all that special in the Bay Area any more. All he is, really, is the latest in a long line of reaper-cheaters the San Francisco Giants have found, resuscitated, employed and grown fat off of in the last five seasons.
He is, however, the one who came closest to being out of the game entirely, so his two big moments in Saturday’s 3-0 Giants win in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series may rank of the best of them all.
The story is well known, at least in California. Teetering on the edge of post-baseball, released by the Pittsburgh Pirates after less than half a season, picked up by, off all people, his original employers in San Francisco and sent to Fresno to find what game he had left, offering to play left field just in an attempt to get some playing time, and suddenly the Giants’ starting left fielder when Michael Morse and Angel Pagan both got hurt.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Bumgarner leads Giants past Cardinals in NLCS Game 1]
And now, he is but the latest finger in the eye of the St. Louis Cardinals, first by dunking a bloop over the head of third baseman Matt Carpenter in the second inning to score Pablo Sandoval with the first and winning run, and then by diving to rob Yadier Molina of a potential double in the fourth inning to kill what passed for a rally by the home side.
In and of themselves, the two were relatively un-highlightable moments. But with Bumgarner at Defcon Nasty, the first run was the best one, and the one difficult defensive play helped persuade the Cardinals that resistance would be regarded as futile. If baseball is indeed a psychological game, Ishikawa threw just enough dirt on the Cardinals to show them just how hard it is to deal with a team that is on an eternal scavenger hunt for new and smaller ways to win games.
So this would be his moment at center stage, so he made sure to disappear before talking to any reporters. “I have to fix my hair,” he said. “You never know when people might comment on how you look.”
For the record, he looks better than a backup backup left fielder and eight-hitter, at least this year. He believes he can defy the conventional wisdom that says in October the ball seeks out the weakest link, and he gets that from his manager.
“The funny thing is, when I got called up (at the end of July), I knew it would be a little first base and coming off the bench as a left-handed pinch-hitter,” he said. “Then I started playing a little left field, but I remember the first time I was in the lineup in left (against San Diego on September 25), I had to look like three or four times to make sure I saw it right.
“Nobody said anything to me, but I sort of figured if Boch (manager Bruce Bochy) believed I could do it, then he knows so much about the game that it gave me confidence that I could.”
That was the first of his eight starts this year, and Saturday’s, the eighth, was the first time he’d managed multiple hits, let alone a game-altering play. For someone who admits he’s toyed with chucking it all in and becoming a full-on adult “any number of times,” this is the payoff that makes his bumpy career path worth it.
And it began with the game-winning RBI, on a ball that traveled maybe 140 feet.
“It was actually a really good pitch,” Ishikawa said of the first-pitch cutter off the outside edge of the plate, “and I just got a kind of decent swing on it and it just went over Carpenter’s head.” The ball wasn’t hit hard enough to score any more than Sandoval, but Carpenter then butchered a grounder by Gregor Blanco to bring home the second run, and that was that.
True, this was largely another Bumgarner extravaganza, between his command, his undetected balk, his shoulder check of Kolten Wong in the seventh inning and his attempt to argue Bochy into submission when he was finally pulled from the game with two outs in the eighth, but he’ll have many more moments between now and the time he starts to wonder if his ride is over.
Travis Ishikawa has been fighting that for years, and this was his moment, one he deserved to bathe in for at least a while. He did it well, because, well, that’s what the Giants do in October. Nobody knows why, but it happens too often to be mere coincidence. There’s no metric for it, though maybe one can find a way to incorporate StH into the lexicon.
For Stuff Happens. Or, if you prefer a more profane level of analysis, S--- Happens. All we can tell is, it seems to happen FOR the Giants a lot more often than it happens TO them.