This is the fourth entry in the revamped SB Nation MLB awards. The first three were about the funniest moment, the most regrettable moment, and the best defensive play of the season. Today's entry concerns the most important hit of 2014.
Not the best hit. The most important hit. This is important because I'm going to be a literalist for the rest of this post.
If it were the best hit, why I would just post this video seven times:
I would post the Jon Miller call, I would post the call en Español. I would post fan videos. I would post a homemade recreation I made with macaroni and string. I would post it on a boat. I would post it on a goat. That was the hit of the year in baseball. It's on the short list for hit of the millennium as of right now. Don't take for granted just how rare pennant-winning home runs are. "Travis Ishikawa ... HITS ONE INTO RIGHT" doesn't have the same heft as "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" for all sorts of reasons, but when you can compare anything to Bobby Thomson, well, that's a pretty good sign that it's an important home run.
But it's not necessarily the most important hit. If Ishikawa strikes out, maybe Brandon Crawford singles into right and David Bell scores from second. If Ishikawa hits into a double play, maybe the Giants win it in the 19th inning on an even more memorable home run from Tim Hudson. If they lose the game, maybe they go back to St. Louis and take Game 6 or 7. That homer won the pennant, is important because it ... won the pennant. But there were other paths to the pennant.
On the other hand, what if Michael Morse doesn't break his bat on a single to right field in Game 7? What if he pops out and Brandon Crawford strikes out, and the game goes into the ninth (or extras) tied? The Royals would have won on a damned bunt, that's what. They would have put Terrance Gore into the game as a pinch-runner and bunted him over for no apparent reason, and that would have led to them winning the World Series.
Or maybe Kelvin Herrera pitches Crawford differently with two outs, and Crawford is the one who gets the broken-bat hit to save the day.
I think the important lesson we're learning here is that all of these hits are important and special snowflakes. The homer in the first inning of Game 1 was important. The Pablo Sandoval hits in Game 4 helped turn a seemingly assured 3-1 deficit into a needed win. Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam to get the Giants in the World Series in the first place. If the Nationals tie the series in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Giants have to face Jordan Zimmermann in Game 5, so Belt's homer is a contender. It's a matter of scale, I guess. Do you dock the Crawford hit because the Pirates wouldn't have scored against Bumgarner, regardless?
Dunno. Let's whittle down the list of contenders.
1. Travis Ishikawa, NLCS Game 5
That's the video up there, and ... aw, heck, I'll post it again, just because:
It's a contender because it literally sent the Giants to the World Series. You might suggest that the Giants were likely to win, regardless, so it can't be the most important hit, just the coolest. That's a fair argument, especially because Madison Bumgarner was unlikely to do in Game 7 of the NLCS what he did in the World Series, so he was set up for Game 1 there anyway.
2. Michael Morse, World Series Game 7
The reason for the season. The Giants don't win the World Series unless they get the game-winning run. Look it up. I don't know what would have happened if Morse grounded into a double play, but I know what happens after he doesn't. I prefer that reality.
3. Brandon Crawford, NL Wild Card Game
Without the grand slam, maybe Buster Posey calls the game differently. Without a win in this game, the Giants have the saddest reach-the-postseason season in franchise history. This is the surprisingly good prequel to the Travis Ishikawa blockbuster that wins the Academy Award and makes a billion dollars.
4. Brandon Belt, NLDS Game 2
The same thing applies to the ripples-in-the-pond point with Crawford's homer, except with that one, the Giants still got to the Pirates' bullpen and Madison Bumgarner was still at his best. The Giants might have been likely to win without the grand slam. With Belt's homer, the Giants took a 2-0 series lead, which allowed them to fart around in Game 3 without totally freaking us out. It kept a Zimmermann return away, too. In another timeline, he's the Bumgarner of 2014. Except the Nationals wouldn't have needed one, considering they had more than one good starting pitcher, unlike the Giants.
The more I think about the Giants actually winning the World Series, the more ridiculous ...
5. Michael Morse, NLCS Game 5
Without this homer, the Giants are hitting off Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth, down by one, instead of a rusty Michael Wacha in a tie game. It's not going to win, but I sure don't get tired of watching the video, so I'm including it as a public service..
6. Mike Trout off Pat Neshek, All-Star Game
A dark horse contender! This is the winning run for the AL, with Derek Norris scoring and the Royals eventually getting home-field advantage. That changed the course of everything. Trout would hit poorly against the Royals in the NLDS, too, but the only way the Royals got that far in the first place was because Norris couldn't throw anyone out in the Wild Card Game. Neshek would allow the home run to Morse in the previous video.
This is all connected.
We need to figure this out together. What is the universe trying to tell us? Later in that inning, Tyler Clippard pitched. Tyler Clippard, Tyler Clippard ... let's see, that's an anagram of "I'll try! Crapped" and Pat Neshek is an anagram of "Ask the pen," but he's also an anagram for "He's Pa Kent," so how does Jeff Kent figure into this? He's a Freemason for one. We'll start with ... you know, this is probably its own post.
I'll vote for Ishikawa. You'll probably do the same. But, remember, it's the most important hit, not the raddest. There are some strong contenders up there. Because of the amazing postseason run and surprise championship that gets more ridiculous with added hindsight.