Stronger Sandoval leads beatdown of LA


Stronger Sandoval leads beatdown of LA


SAN FRANCISCO The apparent story in the hours beforeMonday nights archrival showdown at AT&T Park was about Buster Posey, andwhether Giants manager Bruce Bochy would really sit his cleanup-hitting catcheragainst the NL West leaders.

The actual story was in an antechamber off the Giantsclubhouse, where hitting coach Hensley Bam Bam Meulens and Pablo Sandovalhuddled around a monitor, watching video.

Sandoval was coming off a simply hacktastic series inOakland. He was overaggressive, hitting off his front foot, swinging throughhigh fastballs. He was a rather unremarkable .275 hitter with one extra-baseknock in 14 games since coming off the disabled list. He wasnt making animpact.

He did Monday night. He dented the baseball, and the Giantsmade their own dent in the NL West standings. Fueled by Sandovals 3-for-3,two-double, three-RBI night, theyoverwhelmed the Dodgers in the first two innings and coasted to an 8-0 victorythat brought them within two games of first place the closest theyve beensince the second day of the regular season.

Sandoval had multiple extra-base hits for the first timesince May 1, when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand. He even had the temerity to turn and burn on a 3-0 pitch; he drove it to the opposite-field warning track for a sacrifice fly.

He'll always be an aggressive hitter. But he picked the right spots this time.

The last couple days for me were tough, Sandoval said. Iwas swinging hard.

His left hand remained on his mind. He wasnt feeling pain,per se, but the strength wasnt there quite yet. He didnt say it, but maybe hefelt he needed to cheat a little bit on fastballs, get his bat going a littlequicker to compensate. Its hard to do that and be moderately selective at thesame time.

But now

When you have the power in your hands and wrists, you donttry to do too much, said Sandoval, who came back from this hamate fracture aweek quicker than he did a year ago, when he had the identical injury in hisright hand. Its getting better every day, so well see what happens.

What happens next could be very, very big for the Giantsoffense.

Sandoval had a long talk with Meulens that also helped toclear Sandovals mind.

Ive got a great hitting coach, said Sandoval, who did allhis damage batting left-handed. He knows the things I can do. He let me know. We talked about a lot of things. I dont want to say what we walked about. But we watched videos, and I put it all together today.

Sandoval has taken a lot of public grief over the pastseveral weeks, especially after Bochy did not hide he and the organizationsdispleasure at the third basemans weight and conditioning. Sandoval has beenpulled for Joaquin Arias late-inning defense as recently as last weekendagainst the As, and in Matt Cains perfect game, too. Those things arent loston players, and they have to sting a little bit for a player like Sandoval, whowas second in Gold Glove voting among coaches and managers last season.

Then there is the legal issue in Santa Cruz, which is ongoing. (Although the investigation should be wrapped up by the end of the week, I'm told.)

Say what you want about Sandovals fluctuating waistline,but this much is unassailable: When he is challenged, he responds. And he putsin the work.

Sandoval did postgame conditioning every day during theGiants last road trip, and his defensive play has improved markedly since hisfirst couple of rough games off the disabled list.

When Sandoval is productive and confident, he is adifference maker. Thats been true of him going back to the minor leagues, whenhe served as a buoy at every stop.

That was great, said left-hander Barry Zito, who gaveSandoval his Kung Fu Panda nickname back in 2009, and benefited from the runsupport while shutting out the Dodgers through seven innings. Its the Pablowe know. He just brings a whole lot of intensity to both sides of the game. Hesjust really igniting the whole offense.

Bochy said he was encouraged, too.

I really was, the manager said. He was quieter and moredisciplined and he wasnt overswinging today. Thats what hed been doing, morethan anything. Today, (his swing) was shorter and he threw out some greatat-bats.

Moving within two games of the Dodgers after trailing by 7 at one point? That was a good sign for the Giants. But theyll need to keepclimbing and keep winning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are applying their ownhot breath.

So perhaps the most encouraging sign Monday night, amid the BeatLA chants, was the sight of Sandoval ripping his double off the bricks. Morethan any position player on the roster, he has the ability to carry a club. Hishands are getting strong enough for that task, and by all signs hes got thewill to match.

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

SAN FRANCISCO — At his introductory press conference Friday, new Giant Mark Melancon was asked about the fearlessness it takes to be a big league closer. He looked down at the first row of seats, where his wife Mary Catherine was sitting in a brand new No. 41 jersey, smiling. 

“You should probably ask my wife that,” Melancon joked.

When the Melancons got married, Mary Catherine had a calligrapher write up an actual bucket list of things the two could do together and presented it to Mark as a wedding gift. 

“It’s framed and it’s in our bathroom,” Mark said during an interview with CSN Bay Area on Friday. “It’s literally in our bathroom and we look at it all the time and try to plan out what we’re going to get done. Because it is on paper and it’s a goal and all that, we’ve checked off probably 40 or 50 percent of it in six years.”

The check marks include biking down the world’s “most dangerous road” in Bolivia and diving with great white sharks near New Zealand. The Melancons have visited Dubai and gone on a safari and stayed in countless cities off the beaten path. They have gone underwater with manta rays and high in the air in a blimp. Some of the items are simple ones, like attending a Nascar race. 

“There are a few items we’ll have to wait for until after baseball,” Melancon said. “We try to keep it safe of course, but it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a way to kind of bring creativity and allow ourselves to do things you could easily say no to.”

The standard MLB contract prohibits quite a few “dangerous” activities, and with a four-year, $62 million deal that is currently the second-biggest ever for a reliever, Melancon will hold off on certain trips, like skiing the Swiss Alps. “Attend the Kentucky Derby” is on the bucket list, but because the Derby is in May, that one is saved for retirement. In his first year with the Giants, Melancon hopes to put a check mark next to “sit backstage at a concert.”

Melancon said the thrill-seeking has slowed down a bit because the couple now has three young children, two daughters and a son. The Giants are hoping the more relaxed vibe carries over into their ninth innings. Team officials have been told by past Melancon employers that they signed a closer who is “boring” on the mound, in a good way. With a cutter-heavy approach, Melancon tends to get his ninth-inning work done quickly and without drama. That’s a welcome change of pace for an organization that has grown accustomed to “torture” late in games. 

“He was our target and we’ve gotten to know him, and the more we’ve gotten to know him the better we’ve felt about the fact that he was really meant to be a Giant,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. 

The Giants had Melancon as their top offseason choice — and only big offseason expenditure — all along. Team officials feel even better about that approach after watching Melancon tour the ballpark Friday morning and meet with season-ticket holders and team employees. The fit was an easy one, with one member of the front office saying Melancon is “practically straight out of Giants central casting.”

Melancon’s new teammates feel the same way. He said eight to 10 of them have reached out since the deal was announced Monday. The group includes the types of players who are on any free agent’s bucket list of potential teammates. A ground ball pitcher, Melancon is looking forward to working with a Gold Glove infield. 

“That’s kind of an attractive thing to have a couple of Gold Glovers (up the middle) and then being able to throw to Buster is icing on the cake,” he said. “When you put things together on paper and go ‘who do you want to throw to and back you up,’ this team stands out.”

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler is headed from the World Series champions to their biggest rival.

After helping the Chicago Cubs end their long championship drought, he finalized an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Fowler fills the last big hole left in the Cardinals lineup after moves made earlier in the offseason to shore up the bullpen.

"It was an honor just to be considered to be in the Cardinals organization," said Fowler, who will wear No. 25 in honor of his mentor, Barry Bonds, because his usual 24 is retired by the Cardinals.

"You play against the Cardinals, I've been playing against them for eight years now," Fowler said, "and they always come out fighting. Always fighting. And then being with a rival, being the Cubs however many times we play them a year, you see them and - it's always good a winning team wants you."

Fowler was also a free agent a year ago, when he spurned a $33 million, three-year offer from Baltimore, who refused to offer an opt out after one year, and signed a $13 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .276 with 13 homers and a career-best .393 on-base percentage that landed him in his first All-Star Game, then had a pair of home runs in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years.

"Playing over there, and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and you saw that they weren't far away," Fowler said. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

His new deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus, payable in $1 million installments each July 1 and Oct. 1 for the next five years, and annual salaries of $14.5 million.

He gets a full no-trade provision, $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove, a $25,000 bonus for a Silver Slugger, $100,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for World Series MVP. He would get $250,000 for NL MVP, $150,000 for finishing second in voting and $100,000 for third through fifth. He would get $50,000 for Division Series MVP if the award is created.

One of the goals this offseason for St. Louis was to get more athletic, both defensively and on the base paths. Fowler was identified early in the process as someone who filled that role.

"He was always someone we were hoping to sign," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, "but after this past week at winter meetings ... we certainly wanted to get this done. And we're excited we got this done."

The lanky 30-year-old from Atlanta is a .268 career hitter over nine seasons with Colorado, Houston and the Cubs. He's expected to slot into the Cardinals' leadoff spot, giving St. Louis a switch-hitter in front of lefty-hitting Matt Carpenter and righties Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.

"You obviously have great presence at the top of the lineup," manager Mike Matheny said. "The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all those physical attributes, I think it's been well-said, this is the guy we were hoping to be sitting up here with."

Fowler said negotiations with the Cardinals were easy with one notable exception.

"We were on a 2-hour time difference, and I guess he wanted to get in touch with me," Fowler said, "but I was in the dentist chair, so he couldn't get in touch."

So, Fowler sent his agent Casey Close a photo of him to pass along to Mozeliak - "That was a first for me, that kind of photo," the GM said - and everything proceeded smoothly after that.

The news of his signing started breaking while Fowler was on a plane to St. Louis, and that also created some problems: namely, with his sleep. People started coming up to him while he was trying to take a nap and asking him whether the news was true.

"I was like, 'Uh, you know, I don't know,'" Fowler said with a grin. "It was definitely funny."

Fowler is eager to help the Cardinals add their 12th World Series championship.

"This is a baseball city," said Fowler. "The fans, every time you come here, you see red everywhere. That's awesome to see. Even going through our parade (in Chicago), you saw Cardinals fans out there. They've won World Series (and) they're poised to be back in the World Series and win again. That was a big part of my decision."

The Cardinals were investigating the trade market for an outfielder during the winter meetings, but decided Fowler was their best option. Because Fowler did not accept Chicago's $17.2 million qualifying offer, St. Louis forfeits its top draft pick next June, No. 18 overall, and the Cubs get an extra selection after the first round as compensation

It was a sacrifice the Cardinals were willing to make to not only improve their lineup, but snag a piece away from their biggest rival in the NL Central.

"There's always the baseball angle in all decisions, but there's also the human element," Mozeliak said. "We think about him as a leader. He wants to have a voice in that clubhouse. When you think back to wanting to change the culture of what we have going on - we like what we have, but now it's even better."