Cult heroes, every team has them. However, no one has churned out more of them over the last decade than the San Francisco Giants. During their magical run to three World Series Championships over a five-year span we saw the usual suspects like Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, etc. make their impacts but we also saw incredible performances from otherwise unheralded individuals. This is about those players.
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Let’s start with a personal favorite. John Bowker never did much as a professional baseball player. Bowker saw a total of 513 plate appearances with the Giants, where he hit a mediocre .232/.283/.382 good for a career .664 OPS (league average is around .750). However, there are two things John Bowker is remembered for amongst Giants fans.
The first being when the fresh-faced rookie came up and hit two home runs in his first three games while hitting .600/.545./1.400. Some of my first baseball memories are of John Bowker leaving the yard and jogging around the bases. The second is the fact that on July 31, 2010, Bowker, along with Joe Martinez, was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for left-handed reliever Javier Lopez. Bowker was out of MLB by the end of 2011 while Javier Lopez played a key bullpen role on each of the three championship teams. At a minimum, John Bowker will always be known as the guy the Giants traded for Javier Lopez, which is good enough for the cult heroes list.
If there was ever a case to have a guy on your team just because he could hit Clayton Kershaw, Joaquin Arias was it. In 40 at-bats against Kershaw, Arias hit .300/.317/.325 against him. While there isn’t much power in that profile, having a .300 batting average against peak Kershaw is impressive. Joaquin Arias could be considered a Giants cult hero simply with his damage to Kershaw. Unlike the previous players on this list, Arias was a semi-valuable player during his time with the Giants playing to a positive WAR production for 2012 and 2013. He was key defensive replacement late in games for the Giants and a fixture in the Giants lineup whenever they faced Clayton Kershaw.
However, Arias will forever be known as the man that threw a ball flat-footed from deep third base to complete Matt Cain’s perfect game. Still the only perfect game in Giants history. A truly underrated defensive gem as the defensive replacement for Pablo Sandoval.
Even some Giants fans said ‘Who the hell is Darren Ford?’. But he played a pivotal role in a single game the Giants won, almost entirely because Darren Ford was really fast. The Giants were playing the Colorado Rockies on September 1st, 2010. The Giants had fought their way back into the race with the San Diego Padres, but the Padres still led the N.L. West by three games. The Giants couldn’t really afford to lose any more games than this. It was Tim Lincecum versus Ubaldo Jimenez with both pitchers at the top of their game. Fast forward to the bottom of the 8th, game tied at one, and Mike Fontenot leads off the inning with a single. In to pinch run comes, you guessed it, Darren Ford. Lincecum then bunted Ford over to second.
Finally, while Ford is at second, Jimenez bounced a curveball to Andres Torres that trickles away from Miguel Olivo. Taking off is Ford gunning for third base, running so fast he looks like he’s gliding. Realizing the speed of the runner, Miguel Olivo rushes his throw to third base and airmails the third baseman. Ford slides into third, realizing simultaneously the ball is in left-field and comes home to score to make the score 2-1. That would be the final. The Giants would go on to catch the San Diego Padres and clinch the N.L. West on the last day. Ford’s dash puts him on the cult heroes list.
Michael Morse had two different runs with the Giants during the 2014 and 2017 seasons. Every Giants fan will remember the first run of Michael Morse because he was such a pivotal player for the Giants during the 2014 season. During the 2014 season, Morse hit .279/.336/.475 with 16 HR and 61 RBIs in 482 plate appearances as he took over LF. It also helped that Morse was a big surfer teddy bear with a lovable smile. Giants fans fell in love with the goofy kid still playing like he was a ten-year-old. However, as the season went along Morse’s defense started to become an issue and he started to lose time in the outfield. Which is what made the 2014 postseason that much more impressive.
While Morse didn’t have a plate appearance in the wild-card game of the division round, he was clutch in the NLCS and World Series. Giants fans know the story of Game Five of the 2014 NLCS better than anyone and it’s what put Morse on the cult heroes list. Morse got four plate appearances in the NLCS going two for four. One of those hits changed everything for the Giants.
The Giants were down three to two going into the bottom of the 8th. Pinch-hitting for Madison Bumgarner was Michael Morse. Pitching for the Cardinals was Pat Neshek, who was, at the time, considered one of the nastiest relief pitchers in the National League. Morse had faced Neshek previously in the series and was looking for a hanging slider and he got it. Morse unfurled his massive body and demolished the ball over the left-field fence to tie the game at three.
Without Morse’s clutch solo home run to tie the game, the last guy on our list doesn’t get his moment on the cult heroes list.
Every Giants fan in the world knew this was coming. Regardless of that fact, Travis Ishikawa has earned the right as the Giant’s most recognizable cult hero. Ishikawa wasn’t a particularly valuable player before the 2014 postseason or after. Ishikawa’s regular-season stats sit at a below-average .255/.321/.391 with a career .712 OPS and he didn’t provide much value as a fielder either.
An interesting tidbit that many Giants fans may have forgotten is that Travis Ishikawa did not start the 2014 season with the Giants but rather as a member of the Pirates. He was cut after appearing in just 15 games with the Pirates and contemplated retiring. The Giants came knocking with a minor-league contract and he eventually found his way to the MLB roster again. Ishikawa appeared in 47 games for the Giants and hit .274/.333/.397 for a .731 OPS over that time.
Game 5 of the 2014 NLCS changed everything for Travis Ishikawa. It was the bottom of the ninth tied at three with runners on first and second and nobody out. Michael Wacha, pitching for the first time in almost a month, couldn’t find the strike zone. He finally did with a thigh-high fastball on the inner half that Travis Ishikawa hit deep into right. You could hear the crowd rev like a motorcycle, getting louder as the ball carried further. Until finally the ball disappeared onto the arcade in right-center-field. The Giants win the pennant! (Repeat how many times you feel necessary). It was moments like this that have etched the name Travis Ishikawa into every Giants fan’s brain for the remainder of time.
Every team has cult heroes, but no one mass-produced them as quickly as the San Francisco Giants. Ranging from the lesser-known John Bowker to the unforgettable Travis Ishikawa. During this time with no baseball, we should have an appreciation of the past and for the players that had just one really cool moment.
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