SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — It’s a script ready-made for Hollywood: longtime ballplayer facing the end of his career struggling in the minor leagues after short-lived stints on major league clubs, getting another chance with the team that originally drafted him – and etching his name into history with a pennant-clinching, walk-off home run.
Travis Ishikawa’s story is more unlikely the more you delve into it.
Drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2002 out of Federal Way High School in Washington state, Ishikawa made his major-league debut in 2006 and by 2009 was the Giants’ starting first-baseman.
While his defense was always solid, he never became the big hitter the team expected from the position. By the end of the 2009, Ishikawa was splitting time at first base and a year later when the Giants won the 2010 World Series, he was a bench player.
The next spring the Giants designated him to the minor leagues where he spent the entire 2011 season. In November of 2011 he was made a free agent and the Giants parted ways with Ishikawa.
FITS AND STARTS
Just a month after leaving the Giants organization, Ishikawa signed with the Milwaukee Brewers and made the major league team out of spring training as a backup player. A month into the 2012 season, he was starting again after an injury to the starting first baseman. Ishikawa was injured less than a month later, lost his starting job and remained a reserve player for the rest of the season.
After the 2012 season, he lost his roster spot and became a free agent again.
In 2013, Ishikawa signed with the Baltimore Orioles and spent the first part of the season in the minors. He was called up to the majors in June that year, appeared in a handful of games and was designated for assignment – getting claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees.
Ishikawa played all of one game for the Yanks in July and was again designated for assignment. No other team picked him up, but later that month he signed a free agent contract with the Chicago White Sox. He spent the rest of the season in the minors and began to consider retirement.
ONE MORE GO
Ishikawa instead decided to accept an invitation by the Pittsburgh Pirates to 2014 spring training camp. While the Pirates’ first-base prospect struggled, Ishikawa came up big and made the Opening Day roster as the starting first baseman.
However, the batting average did not come around, with Ishikawa hitting just .206 with one home run in 15 games. After the Pirates traded for first baseman Ike Davis from the Mets, Ishikawa was once again designated for assignment just over two weeks into the 2014 season. After no other team showed interest, Ishikawa turned down another minor league role and became a free agent.
At age 30, Ishikawa decided to sign a minor league deal with his original club, the Giants. Unfortunately, he languished most of the season on the bench at Triple-A Fresno. Retirement was knocking on the door.
In July, the Giants once again promoted him to the major league club after the injury to starting first baseman Michael Morse. Late in the season, with outfielder Angel Pagan out for the season and other outfielders performing poorly, Ishikawa was inserted into the left field spot even though he had little experience at the position.
In the 2014 Wild Card game, he had the pleasure of facing the team that let him go earlier in the season – the former Pirates Opening Day starting first-baseman was now the Giants starting left-fielder. After the Wild Card win, Ishikawa continued to play and hit well in the Division Series against the Nationals and in the Championship Series against the Cardinals.
It all almost went all downhill in Game 5, when Ishikawa misplayed a line drive that should have been an out into a run-scoring play for the Cardinals. He was going to be the goat, the guy who shouldn’t have been playing left to begin with.
Until the bottom of the ninth. Ishikawa sent a ball over the right field wall, sent the Giants into the World Series and became a baseball immortal – joining just eight other players in MLB history to hit a home run to win a post-season series. Ishikawa also joins Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” pennant-winning home run blast in 1951 in the annals of Giants history.
“I didn’t think earlier this year I’d be here in this moment,” said Ishikawa as players celebrated on the field and fans rejoiced in the stands. “I thank the Giants for the opportunity and for the second chance.”