Urban: Sandoval's return pumps life into Giants

June 15, 2011, 5:51 am
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June 14, 2011


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Mychael Urban

Knowing his teammates expected the world from him, if not a couple of moons and perhaps a star or six, he went out and delivered on virtually every front.Pressure?No. Not to Pablo Sandoval.He gets it.Pressure is struggling to make rent on your one-bedroom apartment, in which your three kids are staring longingly into an empty refrigerator.Being asked to breathe a little life into a clubhouse, boost a struggling offense and make a few plays? That's straight-up fun for the Panda, and he shows it in every way.Before Tuesday's 6-5 win over the host Diamondbacks, Sandoval, in his first game back since surgery to remove a broken bone near his wrist, gave Giants manager Bruce Bochy a big hug in the dugout. That Bochy accepted it spoke volumes about what the man-child of a third baseman brings to the defending world champs.NEWS: Giants hold off D'backs, preserve win for Cain
Bochy, you might have noticed, isn't exactly the cuddly type. His fairly gruff appearance and demeanor suggest he's far more likely to kill a bear than to hug a Panda, but hug Sandoval he did.Similarly, the rest of the Giants embraced the notion of Sandoval's return, hoping his energy, positivity and goofy perma-grin would somehow make the still-fresh memory of Freddy Sanchez -- the Giants' second All-Star candidate to go down in a heap of pain in the past three weeks -- fade. That's a lot to ask. Pretty much impossible, in fact. But Sandoval did what he could, loving every minute of it.First he set an early tone with an RBI single in his first at-bat back.
After lining out in his second at-bat, he drew a walk and scored in the fifth inning.That's right. A walk. Patient Panda? Eh. Probably not. Ever. But a more patient Panda is progress enough.Just as important, Sandoval played a rock-solid third base, highlighted by the tremendous play he made on a tough short-hop before making a stellar off-balance throw, getting a force at second base for the first out of the eighth after a leadoff walk. The D'Backs didn't score in the inning. Nor did they score in the ninth, when Sandoval made a selfless play that ended up meaning nothing but deserves mention.He took a spike to the leg from Kelly Johnson, who was advancing to third on a wild pitch, because he expertly blocked the base with his foot. The umpire missed the call, and the game ended shortly thereafter, so it didn't really matter that the call was blown. But you can bet the play mattered to Sandoval's teammates.The guy's fresh off the DL and he's putting himself in harm's way trying to nail down a win? Some might call that overzealous. In baseball your teammates consider it heroic.A real-life hero, of course, finds a way to make that rent, to fill that fridge.But in Sandoval, the Giants were looking for a baseball hero Tuesday, and they got one. A big, silly, smiling one that you can't help but want to hug back.