SAN FRANCISCO In 2010, Barry Zito was left off thepostseason roster altogether and Pablo Sandoval was essentially a role player.The times they are a-changin.Zito picked up his 13th win of the season Thursday at AT&T Park andappears poised to take one of four spots in the playoff rotation. Sandoval hita home run from each side of the plate for the first time in his career to leadan offensive charge in a 9-2 sweep-clinching win over the Colorado Rockies. Sandoval snapped a 161 at-bat homerless streak in the first inning ofWednesdays win and one-upped himself in the series finale. He homered in thefirst inning again --- this time as a right-hander -- on a fastball fromRockies southpaw Jorge De La Rosa. Sandoval then took advantage of an inning-extendingerror in the fourth and, as a left-hander, turned on an 0-2 slider headed forhis back ankle and deposited it in the arcade seats for a three-run bomb and a 7-2lead. Buster Posey followed Sandovals second shot with one of his own for theGiants first back-to-back big flies since April and the rout was officiallyon.I feel great at home plate, Sandoval said. When you arelike that, everything is going your way. I just come every single day here andhave fun out there.While Sandovals first home run Thursday accounted for onerun instead of the three his second blast drove in, it may be more noteworthysimply because he hit it right-handed. In 2010, Sandovals splits were drastic.He hit .227 with one home run right-handed and .282 with 12 bombs as a lefty.That trend continued into 2011, when he even tried hitting left-handed againstsouthpaws in four plate appearances as he built up strength following the first of his two hamatesurgeries.I feel great from the right side; Im strong, my swing is there,Sandoval said. When I was struggling in 2010, I wasnt hitting wellright-handed. But this year I just focused, and last season, on trying to workon my stamina on swings from my right-handed side, so I feel great.Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he doesnt think the injury was a factor inSandovals slump as much as his mindset was.I think once he hit the one last night, it just seemed to relax him a littlebit more, Bochy said. He has to realize, he doesnt have to hit home runs.Hes strong enough to hit the ball out of the ballpark. Those swings were notout of control. He got some good pitches. Actually the ball he hit left-handedwas a pretty good pitch.Like Bochy, Sandovals teammate Angel Pagan thinks the Pandas prodigous poweris back because of his frame of mind.He never got out of his confidence; he was just going outthere trying to get it done, Pagan said. It happened to me and Im sure ithappened to a lot of my teammates. Something you cant lose is your confidencewhen youre at the plate. He just kept believing. He kept working in the cagetrying to get back to his swing and finally got it.Zito may have finally got it, too, following season afterdisappointing season since signing a bloated contract with San Francisco in2006. The slow-throwing southpaw walked off the mound with two outs in thesixth inning to a standing ovation, despite allowing a season-high 10 hits.The fans have just been great, Zito said. Theyre the best fans in baseball,especially as we come down to the October part of the year. They were justelectric back in 2010 and theyre all very excited to be out here. We loveseeing that.Fans loved seeing Zito in control (he walked one) and limiting the damage (he onlyallowed two runs on those 10 hits). The Giants have won behind Zito over his last nine starts and Bochy has an ideawhy.When hes pounding the strike zone and commanding hispitches, hes going to have a good game. Hes smart, he knows what hes doingout there and hes got four pitches to work with. Hes really throwing the ballwell.Bochy said that avoiding the free passes and not getting flustered with men onbase was crucial for Zito on Thursday as well.Hes very locked in, getting the ball where he wants andstaying away from those walks, Bochy said. Thats whats always hurt him inthe past. Occasionally he would get out of synch and walk two or three guys inan inning, setting up the big inning. Hes staying away from that and doing a greatjob of limiting the damage if something happens.Its all about keeping your composure and your poise outthere and making pitches. Hes doing a great job of that. They did have someguys on base. He had to make pitches at times to get out of it. Its all aboutkeeping your concentration and just keep going.The Giants, despite a nearly insurmountable lead in the N.L.West, are keeping their concentration on the task at hand.The view looks great right now, but we have to really make sure. We cantthink about playoffs right now, said Pagan, who acknowledged that its easiersaid than done.Sandoval, who unlike Pagan was with the Giants when thedivision title came down to the last day of the season in 2010, agreed with hisnew teammate.We are happy, but were not satisfied, Sandoval said. Wereloose; were having fun. Its not over yet, so you have to keep fighting.Bochy is certainly setting an example when it comes tokeeping it loose. He showed up to his pregame meeting with reporters in a 49ershat to honor Alex Smith. RELATED: Bochy shows support for 49ers' Smith
Were 1-0 with that hat, he said after the game.With the Dodgers in progress in Cincinnati after Bochys work was done, theskipper couldve relaxed with a glass of wine and watched to see if his teams magicnumber would drop to three or stay at four. So would he stick around to watchthe game?No, Im probably going to go to dinner, to be honest. Iveseen enough baseball today. Its up to us to take care of business.