Travis Ishikawa is San Francisco Giants unsung hero in NLCS win

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Travis Ishikawa didn’t know if he would even be on the San Francisco Giants’ roster for the National League Championship, but on Thursday night he won it for them with a walk-off, bottom-of-the-ninth three-run home run that made manager Bruce Bochy look like a genius.

The post-season manufactures unlikely heroes overnight and this was Ishikawa’s turn. It’s a little too strong to suggest that Bochy reached into the stands for Ishikawa, but he certainly had to be playing a hunch to use him regularly in the outfield with so much at stake.

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The Newbie

That’s because Ishikawa’s Giants body of work for 2014 was pretty sketchy -- 2 homers, 15 RBIs, .274 average in 47 games. If it was a college classroom he would have been graded an incomplete. Instead, he was trusted with the crown jewels, or close to it, awarded a starting spot.

Because Ishikawa hit the most important homer of his career the Giants polished off the St. Louis Cardinals in five games, 6-3, and advance to next week’s World Series. In a peculiar pattern that makes little empirical sense, the Giants have stuck to their every-other-year, even-year habit of appearing in the Series. They won it all in 2010 and 2012 and here they go again, this time against the Kansas City Royals, starting Tuesday in K.C.

Veteran Journeyman

Ishikawa's resume is as much saga as play-by-play. Although his name and appearance would lead the casual fan to believe he is one of the recent Pacific Ocean-jumping players to flood into the majors, Ishikawa is actually an American born in Seattle, though of partial Japanese heritage dating back three generations.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Ishikawa broke into the majors with the Giants in 2006, but has been on a world tour since. He played for the Milwaukee Brewers, the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates between 2012 and this year. That’s a lot of frequent driver mileage. Heck, somewhere in the middle he actually signed with the Chicago White Sox, too, but never played for them. Ishikawa has never played more than 120 games in a season and that was five years ago.

In all of those travels, representing all of those teams, has Ishikawa ever made more than the minimum salary. When the Pirates let Ishikawa go in April after he played 15 games he thought he might retire because his career was running in place.

Back to the Bay

Except that it took him to one more place, a full circle, as it were. He re-joined the Giants on April 25 after being out of the organization since 2011. Bochy remembered Ishikawa from his younger days and San Francisco brought him aboard for one more fling at 30. It was a rather disappointing reunion at first. Ishikawa was assigned to AAA Fresno and he rode the bench. For him thoughts of retirement became like a migraine, only more insistent.

Then, in July, Michael Morse, who by all measurable statistics (16 homers, 61 RBIs, .279 average) was playing better than Ishikawa, was injured. Ishikawa was promoted to the big club and when the regular season ended with the Giants playoff participants as a Wild Card, Ishikawa suddenly became as valuable as newly mined gold.

When the NCLS began, Ishikawa might not have been on the Cardinals’ scouting report. Now he is in their nightmares.

Playing left field in Game 1, Ishikawa went two-for-three and drove in the go-ahead run that stood up in the 3-0 victory. He went one-for-two in Game 2, the Giants’ only loss. In Game 3’s 5-4 San Francisco triumph Ishikawa smacked a bases-clearing triple.

Ishikawa was a tame 0-for-2 in Game Four, but then he stroked the biggest hit of the Giants’ season in Game 5. The home run was Ishikawa’s sole hit of the night, so he only batted .385 for the Series.

For those who believe that the Royals cornered the market on miracles in these playoffs, they haven’t met Travis Ishikawa.

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