MIAMI – Bruce Bochy answered the question with silence. You could almost hear his mind clawing the floor, looking for any escape.
Has Pablo Sandoval gained weight since the season began?
“Well, I don’t know,” said Bochy, using a humorous deflection to lift the hatch. “I guess I have, because we look the same.”
The number on the scale isn’t public. The numbers in the box score, and on the stat sheet, are undeniable. Sandoval was hitting as low as .167 as late as May 6, all of which makes his current .280 average approach miracle status.
That’s where Sandoval stands for the first time all season after collecting three hits, starting two scoring rallies and leading the Giants to a 5-3 victory at Marlins Park on Saturday. A day earlier, Sandoval hit a three-run homer at a mid-90s fastball above the letters. He has 11 hits in his last five games.
“He’s really shortened up, is really using the whole field well,” Bochy said. “He has good balance right now. He’s in a good place, and he benefited from some rest, too.”
Said Tim Hudson, who yielded a run in 7 1/3 innings to snap a five-start winless skid: “He’s a great bad-ball hitter. When he’s going like this, you can throw a pitch that feels good out of the hand and it’s a line drive and you’re backing up third scratching your head. When he’s going good, he can carry you.”
There was a time over the winter when Sandoval sketched out a plan for himself. He was going to become a different player, changing more than the waist size on his standard issues. He worked with Miguel Cabrera, who preached patience and working deep counts from the right side. He wasn’t going to be the bad-ball Panda that won him a World Series MVP trophy. He was going to become a complete hitter, and hit free agency with the kind of numbers – OPS, WAR, RC+ -- that get you paid these days.
It didn’t work. So Sandoval went back to being who he is.
Is he proud of where his numbers stand now?
“I’m proud we’re in first place,” Sandoval said. “That’s the way I’ve been feeling. I feel great but the thing for me is winning. That’s more important.”
Sandoval said he spent time chilling at his South Florida home over the break, not thinking one bit about baseball. He definitely looked in resort mode after the game. He wore big diamond studs in each ear, a low-pressure system of cologne and clear plastic glasses with gold inlays that could only be described as the most blinged out high school chemistry lab goggles ever made. Buster Posey, a huge smile on his face, joined the huddle of reporters and tried to take a phone picture of Sandoval. The Panda whipped off the glasses before Posey could open his camera app.
It wasn’t a one-man show Saturday night that once again allowed the Giants, at 54-43, to claim the NL’s best record along with sole possession of first place in the NL West. Hunter Pence had a two-run single. Hudson got 14 ground-ball outs, including three double plays – one off Giancarlo Stanton’s scary bat in a first inning that nearly turned ugly.
What was Hudson thinking as he faced Stanton with two aboard?
“You really want to know with the camera on?” he said. “Obviously, that’s not how you want to get the game started. That double play was heaven sent, for sure. That had the makings to be interesting, to say the least.”
Hudson gave up a run in the first inning, but the Marlins didn’t touch him again. They didn’t even get another runner into scoring position until the seventh. And in the meantime, Sandoval kept starting rallies.
Brandon Belt only made it as far as the third inning because of headaches, nausea and dizziness after he was hit in the face by a thrown ball in batting practice. He could be headed to the 7-day concussion DL.
Other than that, and a very long home run from Stanton off Sergio Romo that landed somewhere between the Turks and Caicos, it was all good news for the Giants Saturday night. They’ll try for their first sweep since June 6-8 against the Mets, when they were 21 games over .500 and 9 ½ up in the NL West.
Their lead is much slimmer now. Sandoval might be a touch heavier. But as long as he’s hitting his weight, the Giants seem to be willing to tolerate it.