SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Michael Wacha finally got to pitch in this year's playoffs. Pretty soon, he was gone -- and so are the St. Louis Cardinals now.
Manager Mike Matheny opened himself up to second-guessing all winter, bringing in Wacha for the first time this postseason and putting him on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning with Game 5 of the NL Championship Series tied.
Travis Ishikawa wrecked the move, hitting a three-run homer off Wacha with one out that sent the San Francisco Giants to a 6-3 win over the Cardinals on Thursday night and into the World Series for the third time in five years.
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"Not difficult at all," Matheny said of his decision. "We put him in a tough place without giving him much work lately -- that's on me."
Wacha was the NLCS MVP last year as a rookie, pitching deep into October until Boston beat him in the final World Series game. The 23-year-old righty missed two months this season because of a shoulder injury, and Matheny hadn't yet found a spot to use him in the Division Series against the Dodgers or in the first four games vs. the Giants.
Then with the score 3-all, Matheny called on Wacha out of the bullpen. It was Wacha's first game since Sept. 26, and his first relief appearance of the year.
"I've pitched in the postseason before. I've pitched in some tough innings in some hostile environments. I was ready for it," Wacha said. "I just wasn't able to throw strikes. Walks and then falling behind to Ishikawa there got myself in trouble."
The Giants beat the Cardinals in the NLCS for the second time in three years, and Matheny's move to Wacha wasn't the only decision that will be questioned.
After a strong start by ace Adam Wainwright, Matheny turned to Pat Neshek. The reliever gave up a tying homer to pinch-hitter Michael Morse on a hanging slider in the eighth.
"You want that one back," Neshek said.
Wainwright said he told Matheny after the sixth that he could pitch one more inning. He retired the final 10 batters he faced, including a perfect seventh that brought his pitch count to 97.
"I was running low on gas. I think he made the right call," Wainwright said.
The right-hander gave up two runs and four hits, quieting an orange-and-black-clad crowd that came for another pennant party by the bay -- and Wainwright could only watch it all unfold.
Wacha said Matheny informed him in the afternoon that he might finally be used out of the bullpen, and then he was told he'd pitch the ninth after Neshek gave up the tying homer.
Pablo Sandoval singled off Wacha to start San Francisco's final rally. Hunter Pence flied out before Brandon Belt walked, setting the stage for Ishikawa's long ball.
Ishikawa sent a 2-0 fastball from Wacha over the brick wall in right, bringing most of the 43,217 fans at AT&T Park roaring to their feet. Fireworks exploded in the air above center field as Wacha walked off the field with the rest of the Cardinals, stunned and silent after a chance to stick around had gone awry.
Just like most of the series.
"Everything felt pretty sharp going into the ninth," Wacha said. "Just fell behind to him and he put a good swing on the 2-0 fastball and hit it out."
Sloppy defense and subpar pitching -- especially in Games 3 and 4 -- put St. Louis in a 3-1 deficit. A couple of questionable pitching changes and a beleaguered bullpen finished off the Cardinals.
Homers from Matt Adams and Tony Cruz -- who filled in for injured catcher Yadier Molina -- in the fourth gave St. Louis a 3-2 lead and seemingly enough with Wainwright rediscovering his postseason prowess.
The bullpen couldn't make it last, though, and the Cardinals missed a chance to rally back.
They stranded two runners in the ninth when reliever Jeremy Affeldt retired pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras on a groundout, fielding the comebacker and running all the way to first.
The Cardinals went 90-72 to win the NL Central, overcoming injuries and inconsistencies to hold off Pittsburgh's surge in September. They beat Cy Young Award favorite Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers twice in the Division Series before running into a Giants club they still can't figure out.
"Just kind of confused," Neshek said. "Everybody in here thinks we're the better team and we just wonder what the heck happened."