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.
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.